People serving sentences for nonviolent felonies in San Diego County custody recommit crimes less frequently than those who serve in state prison for similar crimes, according to new data from the San Diego County probation department.Before the 2011 state realignment shifting more nonviolent inmates to county facilities, people returning to San Diego County from state prison went back to prison at a higher rate than for California as a whole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Ricky Valdez, vice president of programs at Second Chance, an organization that helps people transition back to life on the outside, said:
In many ways San Diego as a community is ahead of the game if you compare to other communities across the country. Organizations involved in rehabilitation are launching programs that would have been unheard of even five years ago. Partners are starting to think outside the box and admit the way we have been doing reentry in our community is not working, so we need to look at other ways to do it.
Since California passed Assembly Bill 109, the public safety realignment law that shifted where sentences were served for nonviolent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders, San Diego County has been responsible for rehabilitating two groups: those who serve their sentences locally and those who serve their sentences in state prison but are supervised by the county probation department after release.
Fourteen percent of individuals released in 2015 who were supervised from start to finish at the local level committed new crimes while still under probation supervision, according to the probation department. That same year, of those who served in state prison but were supervised locally post-release, 36 percent committed new crimes while on probation.
Scott Huizar, a division chief with the probation department, said that the two populations are similar in terms of crimes committed, but they differ by when those crimes were committed. If they committed their crimes before the implementation of AB109, they served in state prison, but if they committed those crimes after AB109, they served locally. Huizar credited the low recidivism rate for those serving locally to the programming that they received while still incarcerated.
“It’s a collaborative approach to address the supervision effort,” he said. “They’re provided with a number of resources.”
He added that the ratio between supervising officers and supervisees is lower for the locally-serving group.
While recidivism is higher for the group that probation supervises post-release, he said it’s still doing better after AB109.
San Diego’s work in reducing recidivism has captured the attention of the federal government. The Department of Labor recently awarded the county one of 19 grants across the nation to establish a job center inside East Mesa Reentry Facility. Second Chance, along with the San Diego Workforce Partnership, helps run the program.
The job center, which launched in February, includes internet access to select websites for job hunting (an unprecedented move given security concerns), as well as a set of suits that inmates can wear as they practice interviews.
Many in county custody under the realignment program end up at the East Mesa facility, which is specifically for inmates with three years or less left in their sentences, so they can prepare to return to society. Officials said that after AB109, East Mesa had to add two new dorm buildings to house the influx of inmates.
So far, 139 people have participated in the new job center. According to Andrew Picard, director of adult programs at San Diego Workforce Partnership, the goal is to help 600 people over the grant’s two-year period, with 100 of those people receiving additional support after release.
The center does more than help with resumes. It works with participants to address other re-entry concerns, such as housing, to ensure that they can be successful in their new jobs.
The job center builds on the vocational programs already available at the facility, where inmates can participate in programs like a National Restaurant Association certification complete with barista training at the fully operational coffee cart inside.
A 54-minute documentary DVD and film IT’S MORE EXPENSIVE TO DO NOTHING, produced by Humane Exposures Films, executive produced by Susan Madden Lankford and directed by award winner Alan Swyer (Rebound), features the voices of criminologists, treatment providers and ex-offenders explaining how the criminal justice system has been failing to motivate incarcerated people to abandon crime and drugs, change their attitudes and live more productive lives. The film notes that when San Diego, California instituted a statutory requirement to provide services to non-violent criminals during and after prison, recidivism rates plunged from 75% to only 16%.
Executive producer Susan Lankford declared:
Diversion is always preferable to harsh detention, which has been shown not to work. Instead, before sentencing, we need to activate a risk/needs assessment of nonviolent offenders to educate, rehabilitate and prepare for re-entry into society.
The film focuses on a number of Southern California programs that have helped incarcerated people become literate, train for gainful employment and make positive life choices that turn them away from drugs and crime. These include juvenile camps such as Camp Bennett, therapeutic communities such as The Lighthouse and Second Chance, and programs for prison-prone homeless people such as Homeless Court and Veteran’s Village.