Two Reentry Programs Prove Local Efforts Cut Recidivism

Santa Barbara County, CA
Every year 1000 to 1400 offenders are released back to Santa Barbara County from California state prisons. Most have no home, no job, and no skills, and no hope of making it. The vast majority have serious addiction problems; many are mentally ill. The state gives them a bus ticket to their county of origin and $200 in cash. Typically, in California, 70 percent of state prisoners can be counted on to re-offend within three years.

But there’s a dramatically successful experiment in Santa Barbara County, known as the Re-Entry Project, that’s designed to keep the recidivism rate down. According to data just released, offenders who participated in the program were 37 percent less likely to be sent back after the first year than inmates who did not. Of the 134 clients that participated, 41 percent re-offended within the first year. That compares to a control group of other inmates who posted recidivism rates of 65 percent.

Those improvements could save the state serious money over the long run. It costs the state nearly $50,000 a year to keep an average prisoner locked up; it costs the Re-Entry Project just under $4000 a year to keep an ex-con from going back.

In operation, the Re-Entry Project provides clients with intensive supervision, support and case management for a year. The strategy is to swarm returning offenders with a host of services from the second they set foot back in Santa Barbara. First the clients are enrolled in a drug or alcohol program; clean and sober living quarters are secured. Rental assistance is provided. On paper, clients can expect to meet with program managers once a week; often it’s more frequent. Passionate and tireless, these managers know firsthand the stresses and strains their clients are going through; they can also see through the evasions and lies. But they’re there to help with, as one graduate put it, “a shoulder to lean on or a good kick in the ass.”

The bad part of this good news story, however, is that California’s current budgetary crisis means the Re-Entry Project won’t get the funding it was depending upon, and may only continue its existence until the end of this year.

For Full Story (by Nick Welsh), click on: The Santa Barbara Independent

Charlottesville, VA
Of the roughly 4800 men who are inmates each year at the Albermarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, 72 go through the New Beginnings Transitional Re-entry Program. Who gets tapped is mainly a matter of scheduling, but once on the list, they’re given this choice: Take the eight-week course, or lose as much as six months time off for good behavior. Each inmate is nearing his release date, and the program’s job is to try to give each one a fighting chance to succeed when he walks back into society. In the last four years, only a handful have been muleheaded enough to stay in jail longer just so they could avoid Re-entry.

Students in Re-entry are put through several intensive courses (including Employability, Parenting and Thinking For Change) as well as a number of short info sessions on topics like money management. All told, they spend 12 hours per week in a classroom. And they all live together in a cell block so they can help each other study and absorb what they’re learning.

Recidivism is tricky to measure. For the last quarter of 2008, ACRJ posted a 55.1 percent recidivism rate, not quite as good as the average 50 percent rate for the 29 groups of graduates so far. But experts say that to truly measure the effects of incarceration in general, and programs specifically, they need to track offenders for three years or more. This fall, the University of Virginia will complete a study of the program that aims to provide a more thorough evaluation.

For Full Story (by Erika Howsare), click on Charlottesville News and Arts

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