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Sheriff decides to spend a week in his own jail

August 21, 2008 2:27:24 PM PDT
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran is heading to jail, but not because of a crime. Instead, it's a self-imposed sentence to spend a week behind bars. Curran says he wants to learn what inmates need, so that when they leave jail, they don't come back.

Curran said he worked to put a lot of criminals behind bars when he was a prosecutor. Now, as Lake County sheriff, Curran is concerned about the conditions inmates face in prison.

"The Illinois Department of Correctional has treated inmates like caged animals, only to see them released back into their communities angrier and more bitter than they originally were," Curran said.

Curran wants to see for himself what life is like for an inmate. So he will spend a week in the Lake County Jail, starting Wednesday.

First, he was fingerprinted.. And his mug shot was taken. Then he was issued a blue prison uniform before being taken to his cell. It's a plan that he called divine inspiration because the idea came to him while attending a summit on prison leadership at a local church, he said.

"I believe that my experience in the jail will help me better understand our existing programming, as well as any possible unmet needs that exist in our inmate programming," Curran said.

One need Curran says is unmet is helping inmates transition from prisoners to productive members of society.

"The national recidivism rate is 67 percent, which means that 67 percent will return to jail or prison within three years from the time they're released," said Curran.

Curran plans to sit in on substance abuse counseling sessions, computer and math classes and religious services. He says he's not in fear of his safety. But jail managers have put him in a cell by himself. Also attending Curran's news conference Wednesday were members of various churches who support the sheriff's efforts.

"People (will be) getting out from our penal system this year, and if we don't do something about it, they're going to come back," said Manny Mill, Koinonia House.

Curran says he still plans to run the sheriff's department from his jail cell. In fact, three meetings that Curran could not reschedule have been moved to the jailhouse.


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