As Chicago continues to grapple with gun violence, one jail is trying something different in an effort to combat the problem.
The program is called SAVE, and it’s spearheaded by Sheriff Tom Dart of the Cook County Jail. The program aims to save a community from gun violence by targeting people who might be able to make the biggest difference.
“We can continue with the broken model, make them worse than when they came in here, because they’ll be associated with other criminals, and then jettison them to a community where they’ll be a cancer, or we can take a person who has issues, break down what those issues are, address those, and now send them back to a community where now they’re sort of a light in the community,” Sheriff Dart explains. “They went from being the cancer to where they’re the one people are talking about.”
During these classes, officials and inmates will start with a game. It helps to ease the tension in a room, where the men, who are in their late teens and early 20’s, are asked to dig deep on tough topics involving their personal lives.
The program also aims to help the men manage anger and resolve conflict. It even trains on how to land a job or start a career.
SAVE stands for the Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort.
“The larger population we have here are folks that could actively have their trajectory changed if given different opportunities, different ways to look at life,” Sheriff Dart explains.
The SAVE program is unique to Cook County, and it’s totally voluntary. It was created as a way to combat Chicago’s gun epidemic, by tackling the cognitive behavior of the men who, for whatever reason, ended up behind bars.
“The reality is if you’re [going to] address these problems, you have to address the players in the system,” says Sheriff Dart. “The players all have individual issues, all have good things and bad things that they have.”
For inmate Rico Potts, it’s helping him to realize his long-term goals.
“Career wise, I wanna be a psychologist. I wanna talk to kids and help kids, because I feel like my story will kinda help them,” Potts says.
He’s seeing firsthand how these instructors’ stories are helping him.
The program stuck with former inmate Jelani Hines, who got out of jail but still keeps in touch with the program, saying it helped him land a job.
“You have to be willing to commit,” Hines says. “Nobody’s gonna hold your hand.”