Reducing recidivism in Winnebago County - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Reducing recidivism in Winnebago County

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) -

The city of Rockford has one of the highest violent crime rates in the state of Illinois.

"The life of crime is the easiest thing you can get into." 

"Many times when these guys come out, they are sometimes, or many times going right back to the environment they were in."

For someone like James Purifoy, getting into the life of crime was more than easy.

"You got parents that work all day, 5 kids, the streets you know, they kind of encrypt some of your visions." said James.

In 1994, at the age of 19,  he was arrested.

"I was convicted of shooting some guys, and the judge gave me 21 years." said James. 

James only spent 10 years in prison, before getting out early for good behavior. But while he was there, he took advantage of every opportunity available.

"I wanted to equip myself with everything the penitentiary has to offer. When you walk into the Joliet Maximum Security, there's a sign that says do the time, don't let the time do you." said James.

So, when he got out of prison, and returned to Rockford in 2004, James was prepared for a different life than the one he had before being arrested.

Eventually, that lead to his passion, opening 15th and Chris.

"I said, why not burgers?" said James.

While James is just one success story, there is a lot that goes into a successful transition from prison, to society.

"When they come out, now it's different set of rules and standards, and the world can be unforgiving." said Rockford Police Special Operations Group Lieutenant, Eric Bruno.

An unforgiving world that these inmates might not know how to navigate.

"We do see individuals that really want to change, and they don't know how to change, or what resources are available to them." said Bruno.

That's where a new program with the Rockford Police Department, and several partners throughout Winnebago County are working to bridge the gap. 

 "They don't have a drivers license, or a consistent way to get to work. They don't have an id, so they can't prove who they are. In many cases we talk to individuals where they've never had a job before, ever." said Bruno.

In 2013, 1,076 people were incarcerated in Winnebago County. By 2017, 479 of them returned to prison, or 44.5%. By 2017, the percentage dropped to 43.7%.

A small drop, but a step in the right direction. The Focused Deterrence Program wants to continue shrinking that number. 

"It's focusing on the individuals that are causing the crime, rather than an entire neighborhood. Focusing on an entire neighborhood can cause distrust." said Marlana Dokken, the Regional Grants Program Manager.

One goal of the program is to help these individuals one step further than a case manager, or probation officer could. Which in turn will give them the skills to hold down a job.

"Offering programs for them that helps them gain the skills necessary to be a productive member of society, because that ultimately helps everybody." said Bruno.

But giving the ex-cons the skills to land a job, doesn't mean they'll get one. That's why James is doing his part to give back to the community, that gave him a second chance.

"It stops me from being the person that I thought that everyone was being to me." said James.

15th and Chris may just be one opportunity, but James is providing a good example that leaving the life of crime behind, is possible.

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