Plumas County’s programs to help former jail inmates and parolees reenter the community are gaining momentum and their success affects local residents in a number of ways — from public costs to the crime rate.
County officials charged with overseeing the process, the Community Corrections Partnership, learned about the successes of another small northern California county during their monthly meeting March 20.
The county’s district attorney, sheriff, chief probation officer and a court representative listened as Lucy Hernandez, a representative from Glenn County, discussed how her county reduced recidivism rates from 100 percent to 20 percent. The statewide three-year average is 63.7 percent, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“It’s time to think out of the box,” Hernandez told the audience, which also included the directors of social services and mental health.
Hernandez said the Glenn County effort began with $12,500 and has been leveraged to $700,000 using a variety of funding streams.
During Hernandez’s presentation she identified two critical areas: housing and the first 72 hours after an inmate is released.
She explained that it’s difficult for an individual to go from the “jail structure to no structure.”
Hernandez asked rhetorically, “What is the purpose of AB 109? Embrace the individuals.”
Assembly Bill 109 is the public safety realignment legislation that returns nonviolent parolees and prisoners from the state correctional system to the county level.
Without support programs, the chance of a successful re-entry is low.
“We need to give them hope and we need to make them a part of the community,” Hernandez said. That’s accomplished by finding housing and providing drug and alcohol counseling, anger management classes, education and work opportunities.
“We need to think of this as a business and consider the return on investment,” Hernandez said.
A two-week empowerment class teaches finance, interview skills, entrepreneurship and health.
Hernandez described how two of her clients started their own small businesses — one in scrap metal and the other in woodcutting.
She has been creative in obtaining funding. Using state money from AB 109 as a match, she has secured grants both public and private, tapping such corporate sponsors as Land O’ Lakes and Wal-Mart.
Because many of the newly released said education was a barrier to their success, the Glenn County Office of Education became involved.
She also touted her local probation department as a “critical champion,” along with the sheriff for allowing them to work in the jail.
Hernandez said it’s important to begin the re-entry process while the individual is still incarcerated.
Hernandez told the Plumas County leaders that they already have “a lot more resources than we do,” and pointed to the county’s day reporting center as a prime example.
Plumas plan gaining momentum
District Attorney David Hollister said that the Plumas program has “expanded beyond anything we could imagine,” and gave much of the credit to Stephanie Tanaka, the county’s alternative sentencing coordinator.
In a follow-up interview, Hollister said that before Tanaka took the position there hadn’t been a person who was responsible for the overall scope of the work.
Tanaka has been developing programs for the inmates and parolees with various private and public partners, as well as working directly with the clients.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved hiring a part-time assistant to work with Tanaka and Hollister anticipates adding more help before the end of the year.
“We have to keep pushing forward,” he said.
Classes teach life lessons
The corrections partnership group approved $7,224 to pay for four classes for four months: alternatives to violence, anger management, parenting and critical thinking.
The funding covers the cost of the teacher, books and materials.
Chief Probation Officer Sharon Reinert, the chairwoman of the corrections partnership, asked that the funding request be deferred because she recently learned that the county’s AB 109 money was slated to be decreased next fiscal year — dropping from $350,000 to $270,000.
“We really need to look at the budget to see what’s the most essential,” she said.
“I feel that these services are vital,” said David van Winkle, the program developer educator of Plumas County Literacy Second Chance.
The district attorney promptly agreed.
“Miss Tanaka is very much in favor of this, as am I,” David Hollister said.
He added that the entire program is gaining momentum and these classes “are exactly what we need.”
As for funding, Hollister said that if the loss is as large as anticipated, then the group would need to look at a structural change, not just eliminate some vital classes.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood also supported the classes. “I second what Mr. Hollister has offered,” he said. “These course offerings are vital to the essence of what realignment is.”
Public Defender Doug Prouty joined Hollister and Hagwood in approving the course funding in a 3-1 vote.
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