After predecessor tried to evict it, new DuPage sheriff moves to expand jail rehab program
Mendrick not cutting but helping expand jail rehabilitation program
Just months removed from receiving an eviction notice and having their budget slashed, officials with JUST of DuPage officials say its jailhouse rehabilitation program is ready to reach new heights.
Former DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba announced in August that he was removing the 32-year program from the jail and completely cutting the $138,000 budget for the nonprofit group that provides job training, addiction treatment and religious services for inmates. JUST stands for Justice Understanding Service Teaching.
At the time, Jim Mendrick, the Republican nominee to replace the retiring Zaruba, called the move a mistake and vowed to make reinstating the program a priority if he was elected in November. He was, and now he's doubled the jail's contribution instead.
"As soon as I settled in, I made the call to the JUST Director Michael Beary and set up the meeting to begin the expansion of JUST, their head count and what they do," Mendrick said.
"In addition to expanding their current programs, we've cleared the way to add a job-training program for inmates to give them a purpose and help them become productive members of society when they leave us."
Mendrick said he has seen the benefits of the program throughout his career at the sheriff's department.
"I've talked to a countless number of people who used to be inmates, and they say their lives have been saved by JUST of DuPage. They say they're off drugs, off alcohol, they have a job, and they attribute that directly to the work of JUST," he said. "When you hear that enough times from real people, you know it's having an effect. The programs we have now are worth expanding."
According to JUST's roughly $220,000 2018 budget, the organization annually received $138,000 from the jail, through the inmates' commissary fund. The rest came from donations, fundraisers and grants.
"All JUST really needed was internal support and a little more funding. They also needed someone who has buy-in to the program, and I certainly have that," Mendrick said. "I think what they do is phenomenal. I think it's very important. I think it reduces recidivism. I think we bring tax burdens and make them taxpayers."
JUST Board President Joseph Udell confirmed Mendrick doubled the $138,000 the program receives from the jail.
"We received our new contract and a check last week," Udell said. "We've been running on a shoestring for so long it's nice to be able to breathe."
Beary said he's bringing on more volunteers and expanding the education, anger management, life skills training and goal-setting programs.
"The big priority is for me to develop an employee-readiness job skills placement and retention plan, which I am working on putting together right now," Beary said. "That's going to be very exciting."
Mendrick and Beary also praised the growing relationship with the DuPage County Health Department, which oversees the drug rehabilitation program for about 15 inmates in the jail's recovery pod. Their success, Mendrick said, has led to the creation of a mentoring program to help those released from jail back into the public.
"If you get released, or if you're going somewhere that offers the same or similar services, we're obviously going to transfer what we can to continue with them in other facilities," Mendrick said. "Obviously we can't control what another jail is going to do. Some people are going to prison from here because they're going to be convicted, and there's nothing that can be done about that."
Beary said he is thankful the August eviction notice was settled before he actually had to move 32 years' worth of documents out of the jail. Plus, he said, the jail is the ideal place to be located, with an attentive audience.
"You do have people there who are going the wrong pathways, and they have a lot of time to think and to come out of their addictions, habits, lifestyle and really take a look at themselves," Beary said. "A lot of them say they're just sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time. A lot of them legitimately will say they want to change and get out of this life, whether it's a street life or life of addiction, but they don't know how to. We're here to help."