While Desiman Miller was incarcerated at the East Mesa Reentry Facility (EMRF), he made a promise to himself — he would learn as many new skills as he could during his time there so that when he left he would have the best chance for success. He enrolled in more than 25 classes and spent his free time reading.
In greater San Diego, Desiman and justice-involved individuals like him have more than a 50 percent chance of going back to jail after release within three to five years. This dire statistic makes it very hard for ex-offenders to rebuild their lives, to reconnect and support their families, and to be a positive influence in their communities.
Employment is critical to successful re-entry. When an ex-offender finds and retains work, the likelihood of reoffending is significantly reduced. Unfortunately, the chance of an ex-offender finding employment is uncertain at best.
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said,
When someone leaves a county or local jail, very real barriers too often stand in their way as they try to find a career and lead a successful life. We have to do more to help them land on their feet as they return to their communities.
Ensuring employment as a means of breaking the cycle of recidivism is a common-sense approach that strengthens communities and improves public safety.
An innovative partnership between the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, and the county sheriff’s and probation departments has resulted in the creation of career centers within EMRF and the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility (Las Colinas). The two-year program, called Reentry Works San Diego, will provide 1,000 justice-involved individuals with critical services including: pre- and post-release employment readiness, assessments, résumé assistance, interview skills, entrepreneurial workshops, mentorship, a computer lab for job searching, placement services, and access to support and training post-release.
At Las Colinas, an all-female facility, approximately 65 percent of the ex-offenders return home to care for children. Reentry Works staff not only focus on employment skills but also connecting participants to child care and other support services prior to release.
We are on the right path. We are more than one year into the program and initial results show a significant reduction of recidivism. So far, only 13 percent of those individuals who participated in pre-release activities have recidivated. Remarkably, only 3 percent of those individuals who have participated in pre- and post-release activities have returned to jail. At an investment of only $850 per program participant, the return on investment has proved to be invaluable.
While this effort represents a big step forward in the challenge of effectively reconnecting the justice-involved to our communities, more must be done. There are approximately 8,000 inmates in county correctional facilities. Every year, 95 percent re-enter our communities. Our vision is to implement Re-entry Works in every prison and jail in San Diego County. Imagine the impact to our communities, to the family members of those incarcerated, and the individuals who have done their time and are ready to become productive members of our region.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown brought this message to San Diego, highlighting training programs in our state’s jails and calling upon our region’s employers to find the potential in ex-offenders who can add value to the workforce and to hire them.
We are very optimistic that these smart investments will increase successful re-entry and employment rates, improve public safety and build stronger neighborhoods.
The next step to making our vision a reality is to build on these programs and find more investors. We need the public and private sector in our region to fund programs like these and help make this vision a reality. Federal funds are just a start. Our community now needs to embrace and invest in this model. Re-entry Works really works.
Desiman recently exited EMRF, graduated from Re-entry Works and immediately landed a job. “I probably wouldn’t be as confident as I was in my job search,” Desiman says. “Knowing that I can get a job because I’ve already got these skills … [Re-entry Works] helped me out a lot.”
Breaking the cycle of recidivism and connecting justice-involved individuals to employment has been proven to work. There are no easy fixes. Rebuilding a life after release is challenging, but we all benefit when more individuals like Desiman remain with their families, get jobs, and rejoin our community.
The authors of this article are County Sheriff WILLIAM GORE, Chief County probation Officer ADOLFO GONZALES & CEO of San Diego Workforce Partnership PETER CALLSTROM.
Other San Diego programs that aid inmates preparing to enter society are detailed in Susan Madden Lankford’s film “It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, available through this blog.”
© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford