12:44pm

Wed June 27, 2012
Cops & Courts

Dispatches from the Inside: A prisoner's take on a correctional re-entry program

Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. 

May 2, 2012

The Argument in Favor of Re-implementation and Expansion of a Correctional Re-entry Program

Any sociologist worth his or her sheepskin will tell you that men, when uninfluenced by female proximity, will revert to behaviors they displayed in adolescence: they act much like teenagers. Without women around, men don’t have to compete for sexual advantage and seek to define themselves in terms of reproductive superiority. They behavioral regression is manifested in all-male activities such as softball and bowling leagues, NASCAR events, and fraternal organizations such as the Moose, Elk’s and VFW. It is also magnified several-fold in the all-male prison setting, where there are virtually no available women and many of the men in question suffer from emotional and social-developmental disabilities.

I see this arrested-development syndrome (ADS) everyday, where gangs, horseplay, frequent fist fights and sexual innuendo and discrimination are commonplace. This behavior doesn’t disappear when ex-offenders are released, it takes time to diminish; in some cases it never does. This is part of the reason why so many ex-offenders and parolees are returned to prison after a brief period of release; they simply cannot cope and navigate in a complex industrial society without enhanced supervision and support. California’s prisons offer few life skills courses. San Quentin stands alone among 33 prisons statewide to offer a myriad of programs addressing emotional, relationship, anger-management, fathering, financial and educational issues. But even if every prison offered programs of this type, the lack of aftercare and support resources offered in our parole system creates a huge void in the transition from incarceration to civilian life.

Sometime in the 1990s, the Department of Corrections began phasing out a program which allowed eligible inmates to transfer to re-entry residences, or halfway houses, when they had around six months remaining on their sentences. This program never served more than a small percentage of about-to-be-paroled offenders, but it did ease the anxiety and difficulties attendant with imminent release – securing housing and employment – for those that did.

Halfway houses offered inmates a place in the community to live while finding work, without the stress of having to pay rent beginning on day one. It was understood that each resident would actively seek work and begin paying room and board as soon as he or she was able. In many cases, the house administrators or on-site parole agents could offer leads to ease the employment process. These transitional housing residences offered a structured environment in which the residents were required to abide by specific rules as well as all laws, or face immediate re-incarceration.

This program seems to have vanished, probably because it was contracted out to a corporate entity whose driving motivation was profitability, rather than the welfare of ex-offenders or the community. I believe a program similar to this should be re-invigorated, with a few administrative and operational changes, to serve all soon-to-be and just-paroled inmates. First off, it must be administered by the state itself, or a non-profit organization, with the goal of housing, employing and supplying its clients with the resources--education, substance abuse, psychological and financial--they need to successfully re-integrate and remain in the community.

With the planned closing of the California Rehabilitation Center, located in Norco, in 2016, a prime opportunity exists to implement such a program. Inmates paroling to Riverside County could be housed there and given the opportunity to secure employment while living in a highly structured and secure environment. Residency would be contingent upon attending substance abuse and self-help programs, and a curfew could be imposed to minimize the opportunity for misconduct. Prospective employers could be induced, through tax and other incentives, to employ this workforce, and the community would benefit from expanded jobs, taxes and consumers. If administered with the goal of serving the needs of the parolees and the community, this would be a win-win proposition for all stakeholders. The simple truth is that the status quo is not working. We no longer have the unlimited resources to lock up individuals repeatedly. Our county jails are filling and will soon face the same problems that led to a Supreme Court ruling on overcrowding in our prisons. It is time to truly begin thinking outside the box.

Richard Gilliam

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