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School of Social Work honors recipients of Social Justice Award

June 2012


The Social Justice Award honors those individuals from the greater Quad Cities regional area who have demonstrated the principles and practices distinguishing a commitment to social and economic justice and promoting the advancement of human rights.

The Hospice/Adult Care Program at Dixon Correctional Center began in 1994 as a collaborative effort between the Illinois Department of Corrections, Lutheran Social Services Prison Ministry and Hospice of the Rock River Valley. The first inmate volunteers were trained in 1995 and the first patient was admitted to the Program that year. Illinois was one of the first States to institute a hospice program and played a leading role in developing national standards of care for the provision of hospice services in the prison setting.

The Hospice/Adult Care Program inmate volunteer force stands at 29. Each year 8-10 new volunteers are trained. The general services provided by the inmate volunteer include companionship, comfort and encouragement and socialization. Specific assistance may include "homemaker" help, such as, cleaning or laundry, encouraging independence in self-care tasks, clerical assistance, accompanying to activities and services and assistance with hygiene tasks.

The decision was made from the beginning that inmate volunteers would serve as the best resource to meet the needs of frail and vulnerable others. The volunteers truly serve as the "heart" of the Program. Their devotion to the care of their patients is unstinting and nurturing-for both the volunteer and the patient.

It is with great honor that the School of Social Work presented this award to staff representatives from the Hospice/Adult Care Program at Dixon Correctional Center. What follows is the acceptance speech from the coordinator of the program, Cheryl Price, MSW.

 

We are accepting this Award on behalf of the Hospice/Adult Care Program, the staff, the Wardens and the 29 men who have accepted our challenge to DARE TO CARE.

The Hospice/Adult Care Program at DCC was started by IDOC in 1995. Key people recognized that a major policy change was needed to accommodate the needs of an aging inmate population. But, in addition, it was simply recognized that caring for dying and frail inmates was the right thing to do.

One of the first things we determined was that all judgments needed to be suspended. It didn't matter what the inmate did to bring him to prison. It didn't even matter what kind of person he was now. The leap of faith the prison hospice makes is-it doesn't matter! The purpose of the hospice team is to provide a cocoon around the dying and frail inmate. The suspension of judgment means providing good care regardless of background. Ultimately, our aim is that the inmate knows that here is a group of people who are not going to walk away.

The second policy decision was the basic care tasks would be assigned to trained inmate volunteers. That with support, incarcerated men could learn skills, obtain new knowledge and establish a support system of caring to their community-the one behind bars.

And, in the process we shattered some myths. The first was that men aren't nurturers. Yes, they are–given the chance even men hardened by life can reach out to another with concern and compassion.

In a sense, this remains a Program of empowerment. It gives the dying inmate some control over his own dying. It gives the frail, the chance to maintain as much independence as his body and mind can manage.

But-what it does for those inmate volunteers. It offers the opportunity for transformation-to put someone else's needs above your own, to recognize the preciousness of life, to see oneself as a different person, a good person. And, our current 29 volunteers did all of the above for over 5,000 hours last year.

Yes, we can accept this award with pride and deep gratitude-on behalf of the Hospice/Adult Care Program, the staff, the Wardens and for the 29 men who DARE TO CARE.

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