Zion-Benton News

Sheriff Curran trains as corrections officer

By: Ginny Skweres
Zion-Benton News staff

When Sheriff Mark Curran Jr. first decided to run for the Sheriff's Office, his opponent, then Sheriff Gary Del Ray, frequently brought up that Curran didn't have any police experience. That was true because Curran had been a criminal attorney for the defense as well as a prosecutor in the Lake County Attorney General's Office.

However, since that time Sheriff Curran has probably gone through more training than most other sheriffs. He passed the 10-week Law Enforcement Training Course and had additional training in highway patrol, interviewing and interrogation, police staff and command, senior management training and Senior Management Institute for Police.

He also graduated from the Illinois Chiefs of Police Management course and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command course. In addition to that, he was a guest of the Israeli government to garner strategies and education from the Israeli Police and Government. ( paid for by American Israel Public Affairs Committee)
Additionally, he spent seven days incarcerated in the Lake County Jail and now has had some on-the-job experience as a corrections officer in the jail.

Curran undertook the rigorous correctional officer field-training program in the Lake County Jail and successfully completed the five-week program, plus he worked a week as a correctional officer in a  60-person housing unit from 6:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Lake County Jail operates with direct supervision which means inmates live in 'pods' that have either dorm-style housing or one that has 48 one- and two-person cells that are locked overnight or when a situation calls for it. Most days the inmates are free to mingle The correction officer oversees the pod and supervises the inmates. That includes getting inmates back and forth to court, making certain they are given their medications from the nurse, coordinating visitation and going to the commissary for breakfast and lunch.

In addition to those responsibilities, a corrections officer must make rounds to each cell once every half hour or every 15 minutes for inmates who require a psychological or suicide watch. The officer also responds to questions, requests or grievances if possible, or forwarding them if not. Plus, the officer must keep a log of all activity. “It keeps you hopping,” Curran said.

If a problem arises, the officers have radios to call for help. They have no guns. Inmates who break rules can be sent to the administrative segregation unit where they are much more limited and have more rules.

Curran said the job is mostly managerial, but there are inmates who will test an officer. For example, Curran said there was one inmate who would not move out of the way to allow Curran to go in. Curran threatened him with a lock down and the inmate challenged him. Even though the sheriff made it known who he was, this inmate apparently did not know who Curran was. He said he wanted to speak to someone in command. He was locked in his cell for a day.

Asked why he took on this challenge, the sheriff said he is constantly assessing himself and the organization and how he can be better. “I thought this would be a good time to do corrections, since I needed a window of time to do this.
In order not to neglect his sheriff's duties, he went to work after he finished corrections at 3 p.m.

Direct supervision
Deputy Chief William Kinville, who has worked in corrections for 26 years, said that direct supervison is led by an inmate’s behavior and not by their charge. “We treat people humanely. There are more rules (than other jails) and they are enforced. The biggest problem is mental illness and it affects 17 percent of the inmates.” Those who have been diagnosed are given appropriate medications.

Kinville said the jail is working aggressively to help inmates with continued care after their release, which is hoped to reduce recidivism. Before they are released, inmates focus on re-entry and they are given phone numbers to call for help.

The Lake County Jail recently received a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It was one of 20 joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $100 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

Lake County and the other jurisdictions will design and test justice reforms designed to safely reduce racial and ethnic disparities. The County will be given support and expert technical assistance. The county will receive $50,000 and is eligible for more funding.