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Home > Press Page

Thursday, August 11, 2011 —Fifteen years after the program started, the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp is set to graduate its 200th class Thursday, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.

Sheriff Dart will preside over ceremonies set for 10 a.m. Thursday at the boot camp gymnasium, 2801 S. Rockwell St., in Chicago. The 37 participants have graduated from the four-month, in-camp phase of the program and will now begin a disciplined, eight-month phase from home. Awards will be given to the most disciplined, most improved and most physically fit inmates in the graduating platoon. In addition, the best student will receive the Pat Gleason Award, named for a former Cook County Public Defender, and the most stellar participant will receive the Capt. Reginald Young Award, named for a former drill instructor.

Those in the boot camp are sentenced to the 1-year program by Cook County judges as an alternative to lengthier prison terms in the Illinois Department of Corrections. All are young men ages 17-35 convicted of a non-violent criminal charge, most often drug-related.

The four-month residential phase is a strict, military-style detention program, with participants housed in barracks overseen by drill sergeants. In addition to basic discipline, the program offers opportunities to gain a G.E.D. and receive behavioral and substance abuse counseling, as well as anger management courses. There are also vocational training programs, including gardening and composting, thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden and Windy City Harvest, while volunteers from Chicagoland Prison Outreach teach the participants carpentry skills. Recycling and computer repair are other vocational programs available to boot camp participants. A typical day begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m. and includes physical activity, classroom time and work assignments.

Graduates then advance to an eight-month “post-release” phase, which includes continued counseling, drug testing and assistance with job readiness and placement. Participants, who begin this phase on house arrest through the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program, must report to the boot camp daily, later advancing to reporting weekly.

Though participants can leave the program and serve a prison term instead – or they can be kicked out of the program and transferred to IDOC custody to serve their full prison sentence – the program graduates most of its participants. The boot camp’s success can be found in its recidivism rate. Up to five years after leaving the program, 70 percent of the participants remain out of prison. Currently, there are approximately 225 inmates participating in the residential phase of the boot camp program, spread out over five platoons.  There are approximately 400participants actively enrolled in the post-release phase of the program.
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