WSIL -- The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Centerstone $1.3 million to help inmates transition back into society in Jackson and Franklin counties.
The announcement comes as Illinois prepares to absorb 253 inmates receiving early release from the Federal Government.
"We have to do something more meaningful than just say, 'You're bad. We are going to put you here and incarcerate you and pull you out of the community,'" said John Markley, CEO of Centerstone.
The grant is going to improve the ability of Centerstone to provide housing and career counseling for those people just getting out of prison.
Leaders there predict nearly 200 released inmates looking to rejoin the southern Illinois community over the next two and a half years, will likely benefit from this federal grant.
"This gives people hope, and that's generally what we are in business to do," Markley said.
The grant complements a recent federal decision to award early releases to 6,000 inmates nationwide, Markley said.
Just over 200 are in Illinois.
Markley called this no surprise, after decades of financial problems and overcrowding in federal prisons.
"It's a conversation that needs to be had, because we incarcerate more people than China does," Markley said.
Experts say harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are to blame for mass incarceration.
Justice Department data shows that between 1995 and 2010, the number of people getting a mandatory minimum sentence increased by 178 percent.
"It's dismaying when you look at that. I mean, what future can there be for people?" Markley said.
Jeffery Nowacki is a professor of criminology at Southern Illinois University and said the amount of money the justice department spends on incarceration, about a third of their budget, is shocking.
"We've realized we're spending resources we don't have on incarcerating these drug offenders," said Nowacki.
A key part of changing the system is rehabilitation services, Nomacki said.
"If you've been in prison for five years, 10 years and 15 years, that's all you really know so it's a shock to the system," he said.
Markley expects continued federal investment in transition services for inmates, similar to the grant his department received.
"It not only practically reduces our costs, it makes our communities healthier. It makes our communities a better place to live," Markley said.
The grant given to Centerstone is specifically meant for inmates who are part of a work release program. Officials expect it to create eight or nine jobs.