The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 10 (1997-98)

J.U.S.T. Time Spent in the County Jail
By Honorable Ann B. Jorgensen

Sentencing hearings are conducted every day on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse. When the defendant has been incarcerated in the DuPage County Jail awaiting the disposition of the case, more often than not the defense will offer mitigation which includes certificates of completion one or more of the programs offered in the County Jail. These programs are the work of J.U.S.T. of DuPage.

J.U.S.T., which stands for Justice, Understand, Service and Teaching, is a not-for-profit agency and ministry which provides social services for male and female inmates of the DuPage County Jail. Judith A. Grote M.S. became the third the Executive Director of J.U.S.T. in June of 1996. She coordinates the various programs from a very small, overcrowded office deep in the confines of the jail. The space houses all the employees of J.U.S.T. and acts as the temporary quarters for many of the volunteers. The desks are pled high with materials, and the bookcases stuffed with stacks of bible study books, attendance sheets for counseling programs, the video tapes and homework papers for the many classes. It is a hub of activity.

Ms. Grote describes J.U.S.T. as the brain child of Bishop Joseph Emmish, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Joliet. His idea was to create an organization which would offer social services to inmates during their incarceration in a county jail.

Over the last 14 years, J.U.S.T. has become the fulfillment of that dream. The organization is a core group of dedicated employees bolstered by an army of volunteers who offer four basic types of service to incarcerated defendants. First and foremost they offer spiritual guidance and support. Additionally they offer a variety of educational programs addictions counseling programs, and finally social services. Judith Grote has a positive attitude about incarceration.

Spiritual Guidance

Spiritual guidance and support is perhaps the cornerstone of the local jail services offered by J.U.S.T.: Reverend Pablo Rodriguez, of the First Baptist Church of Bensenville has been a volunteer for J.U.S.T. in the DuPage County Jail for the past 14 years. He makes rounds through the jail offering comfort and support to many of the inmates, primarily Hispanics. Reverend Burt Ashland also offers spiritual guidance, support and counseling. Spiritual assistance is available for members of all faiths upon request. Judith Grote, believes that it is spiritual guidance that is the first step towards rehabilitating incarcerated inmates. This philosophy is reflected in many of the programs offered in the jail.

In addition to chaplaincy, J.U.S.T. also offers extensive bible study classes. All denominations are welcome to participate in these studies. A typical class is approximately an hour long. Participants may read a particular section or verse in the bible and discuss it among themselves. The discussions are led by a moderator, and may include questions about the message in the verse and how that message might impact their life. The moderator may also use the discussion to initiate conversation about other forms of spiritual orientation for the inmates. The bible studies meet a couple of times each week depending on the need of the inmate population. For example, those of a Catholic faith might have class on a Tuesday, while those of a Protestant faith would meet of Thursday. In spite of the grouping of bible study by faith, Ms. Grote is quick to point out that bible studies do not particularly focus on religious preference or perspective, rather her philosophy and the philosophy of her volunteers, is that bible study should emphasize the commonalty of all persons, and examine our differences in a diverse light.

Inmates who participate in the bible study program are offered a series of self-study books. The books, entitled Studies in Christian Living, are approximately 30 pages in workbook format. Each book contains references to a number of bible verses. Once the student has read the verse he or she will answer a series of questions about that verse. The questions have no right or wrong answer but are designed to precipitate thinking and re-evaluation of one’s life. The workbooks are corrected by the many volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton. The purpose of the correction is to offer support and encouragement to those who maybe for the first time encountering serious spiritual guidance in their life.

Education

Judith Grote has a positive attitude about incarceration. She sees incarceration as an opportunity for an inmate to clean their mind, a time to detox, and think about themselves; where they are in their life, where do they want to go and what life changes are necessary to get there. These life questions she believes are the root of the need for spiritual guidance in the county jail. One piece of a better future is learning about themselves their family their future and their education

J.U.S.T. offers many educational programs. Perhaps the most used program is the GED program. Officer David Lyons, a DuPage County Sheriffs Deputy, is a certified teacher who has been teaching the GED program in the jail since 1988. He also teaches the same course for probation. Those who begin preparation for the GED examination in the jail are able to continue the same program if they are placed on probation

The preparation class runs 10 weeks, during which inmates attend two nights a week. However they may continue to participate in the preparation classes as long as they necessary to prepare for the GED examination. The examination given to jail inmates is the exact same exam given to every other individual seeking a GED. An independent examiner periodically visits the jail and administers the GED to inmates. There are no special perks. There are no special tests for inmates in the county jail.

Individual or small gourd tutoring is another very new program. The tutoring is done by Peggy Keene. Peggy, among her other credentials, is a retired Chicago School teacher. This program is a tribute to the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. During the GED preparation classes, Deputy Lyons and other counselors noticed that many of the inmates seeking a GED were simply are not prepared for even the beginning GED readiness classes. Many had little or no reading ability and had at best rudimentary math skills. Ms. Keene has developed a tutoring program which allows inmates to start as far back as needed to learn basic math skills and basic reading skills to enable them to enter the GED classes.

The Parenting Class is also a popular and well attended class. It is available for both female and male inmates. The parenting classes involve a series of six sessions. Each session includes watching a video tape, group discussion, and a homework assignment. The 6 tapes, each 28 minutes in length, talk about the various aspects of positive parenting in today’s society. Each session has a corresponding homework assignment that consists of 30 to 35 pages of reading and questions to be answered.

The video tapes are prepared by the founder and president of Active Parenting Publishers, Michael Popkin, Ph.D., who is both a therapist and a parent. The Active Parenting Today video format teaches parents skills that have been used to successfully rear children. They emphasize the positive aspects of a parent child relationship, such as cooperation between parent and child, instilling responsibility, developing courage and building self-esteem.

Judith Grote believes that these programs are very valuable in a jail setting. Often times inmates faced with the status of their life, their relationships, and the absence of a relationship with their children see the parenting class as the first step toward reestablishing a positive and nurturing relationship with their children.

Family Dynamics is a relatively new program offered by J.U.S.T.. It follows a format similar to the parenting classes. These tapes, entitled Commitment to Change, are prepared by John Bradshaw, a well known figure in the field of family relationships and counseling. The Family Dynamics program consists of 10 sessions, each includes viewing a video tape and group discussion thereafter. Each of the video tapes focus on a different aspect of family life, including families in crisis, dysfunctional issues, compulsive behavior, emotional abuse, resentments, forgiveness, and ultimately concluding with a final chapter on hope for the future family. Each tape is approximately 60 minutes, followed by an hour discussion. This program is taught by Bob Green.

Job Readiness is another program offered by J.U.S.T.. This program also consists of multiple sessions, including video tape and discussion. The videos for the job readiness program are entitled . Judith Grote explains that the theory for job readiness is first commitment to change. This includes commitment to change one’s life and one’s lifestyle. It is only after this commitment to change that any inmate can be prepared for seeking and accepting a job in society. Once the commitment for change issues have been resolved, the balance of the program is dedicated to teaching inmates how to seek out employment, and maintain successful employment on the outside. This program is taught by Peggy Keene and Fred Miller.

Addiction Counseling

The third aspect of J.U.S.T. services includes programs designed to address addictions and substance abuse through counseling. Marty Manion is the director of special services for J.U.S.T.. He is a certified alcohol and drug counselor. He conducts group counseling sessions every day. These impromptu sessions generally last for a couple of hours. They start late in the afternoon when Marty gets up to the pods. These counseling sessions are an open invitation to any one who wants to come to the session. The only limitation space, so the first 20 inmates who join in are the group for that particular day. The sessions include a short film and followed by discussion among the participants. These sessions are primarily geared towards substance abuse including alcohol. Dick Larson has recently joined the staff of J.U.S.T. and will be conducting counseling on a part-time basis in the jail.

Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are also available in the jail a couple of times each week.. These meetings are almost always led by J.U.S.T.

volunteers, and are available to both men and women.

Bob Green offers an additional 12 step addictions program. This program accommodates those suffering from addictions of all kinds. Mr. Green offers this alternative 12 step program because he believes that there are many areas of addiction not as easily identified as alcohol and substance abuse. None the less these effects of these addictions are J.U.S.T. as devastating as the effects of alcohol or cocaine. Therefore his program includes not only alcohol and substance abuse, it also includes gambling addiction and sex addiction, and is available both for male and female inmates.

Social Services

The fourth area of service to inmates is the social services. These activities fall into a miscellaneous category. They are clearly issues which need to be addressed promptly, but also are the kinds of problems which the inmate can not resolve without help from the outside. A prime example is the assistance J.U.S.T. volunteers can offer to inmates who have issues with DCFS. Many inmates, particularly females, have on-going cases with DCFS involving their children. J.U.S.T. personnel can help these inmates address their problems with DCFS.

Emergency motions for bond reductions, or furlough based on the serious illness or death of an inmate’s family member are filed regularly. Yet it is very difficult to verify specific information about a pending wake or funeral from inside the jail. In these situations, a J.U.S.T. volunteer will speak with an inmate and make attempts to verify the information as to times and locations of funeral services. The verification is then passed on to the inmate and their attorney.

J.U.S.T. volunteers also screen inmate phone requests to make a non-collect call. When J.U.S.T. feels the request is reasonable they will make arrangements for the inmate to have such a phone call. Sometimes the J.U.S.T. personnel receive requests just to talk. J.U.S.T. always responds.

The Future

When asked what future programs she would like in the jail, Judith Grote’s eyes light up. She would like to initiate job skills training in the jail, specifically computer skills. She believes that anyone trying to get a job in this day and age needs basic understanding of computer skills. Even operating a cash register or working in a warehouse requires some basic computer literacy. She believes that the County will be well served to allow basic computer training in the jail.

She would also like to see a fine arts program instituted, that would include art, acting, creative writing and literature study. She believes that the arts are the avenue through which we become civilized and express ourselves in a positive and non-violent manner.

Finally, she would like to institute a mentoring program. When inmates leave are released, often all ties with counseling and therapy which has begun in the jail. Bob Green has very recently started a pilot mentoring program. Two inmates who were in counseling with Bob throughout their time in have expressed an interest in maintaining counseling with him after their release. This is clearly a voluntary program, no one compelled to participate. Ms. Grote sees this type of program as a very positive use of J.U.S.T. volunteers. If volunteers can establish a relationship with an inmate through their contact in the jail, that volunteer could become a mentor to bridge the gap between structured living in the jail and productive law abiding life in society.

It remains to be seen the impact of these programs. However, quoting from the Daily Herald, Saturday, November 2, 1996, "There is also a pragmatic factor that County Officials have recognized. Studies show that recidivism rates are reduced when inmates make productive use of their time during incarceration".

Perhaps what lies ahead for J.U.S.T. of DuPage is a research program that will quantify the benefits to society when programs such as these are offered to inmates during their incarceration.


 
 
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