DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) – “It’s so meaningful, it’s so needed. It’s important that as a society we understand what is true public safety,” Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) Executive Director Delrice Adams said.

State leaders say the war on drugs harmed communities across Illinois. So, they’re giving money earned from marijuana sales back to those places, including an organization in Macon County.

Sherrod’s Independent Mentoring Program in Decatur received almost half a million dollars. They’re focused on violence prevention, youth development and reentry programming. They’re also partnered with seven police chiefs from the county. Program leaders and participants met with ICJIA staff Thursday to tell them about their work.

“We always say we have one mission, one vision, and that is to put our youth first and also build our community so we can work together as a team,” CEO and President Dr. Jarmese Sherrod said.

Sherrod has been committed to that mission for two decades, and it’s paying off. Her program was selected for a $472,000 grant as part of the state’s R3 initiative. It stands for restore, reinvest and renew – a creative solution for communities plagued by violence, poverty and the enduring effects of what they call the “failed war on drugs.”

“A lot of policies were put in place that led to mass incarceration and an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of black and brown community members being arrested,” Adams said.

They were largely arrested for drug-related crimes. Adams said policies enacted during the war on drugs didn’t address substance use disorder, but criminalized it, and left pockets of the state struggling.

“The Cannabis Tax Act hopes to right that wrong by actually investing in communities,” Adams said.

Lawmakers promised a quarter of marijuana sales tax revenue to areas most affected by gun injuries, unemployment, child poverty and prison re-entry. Sherrod said that money allowed her to double her services.

“It also expanded our program to reach way more students than I would’ve been able to because we didn’t have to worry about the funds,” Sherrod said.

She prioritizes youth development – encouraging teenagers to build positive relationships with law enforcement and be leaders among their peers.

“We ultimately create the change and we get right on it,” Lexi Smith said.

Smith lost her father to gun violence three years ago. She said the program helped her find her voice, and she wants to help others find theirs too.

“I can also give them tips on how to overcome what they’re feeling because I’ve also felt that too,” Smith said.

Another important part of the mentoring program is their reentry services. Sherrod said they bring resources, workshops and free education to women in the Decatur Correctional Center to help them start a new life when they leave.