San Diego will be the first county in the state to provide non-violent felons with a program intended to help them successfully re-enter the community, officials announced yesterday.
It is to begin at the time of arrest and last up to 18 months after an inmate is paroled. Case managers will mentor offenders and guide them toward substance-abuse treatment and educational and vocational opportunities behind bars and once they get out.
Case managers also will try to help inmates come up with plans for their lives.
The system is voluntary. But the difference will be in having someone who is specifically charged with helping steer offenders toward productive, law-abiding lives.
“The re-entry program marks the beginning of a safer San Diego,” said Vaughn L. Jeffrey, the county's chief of administrative services.
Officials said the program would serve as a model for two other counties expected to implement similar programs in 2007, officials said.
A state law authorized the California Department of Corrections to enter into agreements with three counties that would create plans for probation departments to assess how parolees are doing and help them turn their lives around.
The counties are supposed to develop multiagency plans for helping non-violent felons successfully re-enter society.
The state is providing funding.
Jeffrey said the need for the program is borne out by California's recidivism rate, which is higher than the national average, and by San Diego County's, which is higher than the state's. In San Diego, 60 percent of parolees will commit another offense within two years of their release.
“That's unacceptable,” Jeffrey said.
Most parolees have years-long addictions to drugs and alcohol and often lack basic education skills to help them succeed in the work force, said county Supervisor Greg Cox. Although rehabilitation programs are available, more than half of the inmates in prison don't participate, Cox said.
The program begins next month. Groups of five parolees will be introduced to the program each week, and larger groups will join as time goes by.
San Diego was selected to be the first to try the program largely because of its track record of collaboration between law enforcement agencies and community and faith-based groups, said Del Sayles-Owen, director of community partnerships for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Sayles-Owen said the other two counties to implement a program have not been chosen.
The San Diego County District Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Department, the county Probation Department, the Public Defender's Office and San Diego Superior Court all have agreed to participate in the program.
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