Santa Clara County leaders met today to formally open a re-entry resource center that is helping former inmates succeed after being released from prison and jail.
County Board of Supervisors George Shirakawa, Sheriff Laurie Smith, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell met with others today to cut a large ribbon in front of the Santa Clara County Re-Entry Resource Center.
For those coming out of state prisons and county jails, the center is a "one stop shop" for assistance benefits, healthcare referral, counseling, case management, life skills classes, and even clothing, one that county leaders hope will keep more people from ending up back in prison.
The resource program that is now based in the center was set in motion by the 2011 adoption of the California Public Safety Realignment Act, AB 109. The act transferred responsibility for the incarceration and post-incarceration supervision of low-level offenders from state prisons and probation officers to local counties, according to the probation department.
Soon after, in October of 2011, the county began providing expanded resources to people getting out of state prisons and county jails and remodeling a county building for the center -- which began some initial operation this February, according to the county.
So far, Mitchell said, the new programs are working.
"When you look at the success rate of inmates coming out of the prisons, it's like seven out of ten fail in three years," Mitchell said.
"Failing," Mitchell said, means that those released offenders end up back in prison. But with the year-old county program, those numbers are going down.
With only one year of data, Mitchell said, "it's kind of early, but what we're seeing is that two out of ten have failed. So if we're able to keep on this same trend, then we have really shifted what this thing is about."
The resource center has offered services to about 453 former inmates since February, the county said.
Located about a block away from the main jail, the district attorney's office, the sheriff's office, and across from the San Jose Police Department at 151 W. Mission St., the new center connects many former offenders with peer mentors like Jose Garcia And Manuel Ortega.
Garcia and Ortega know what it's like to be recently released. Both say they have been incarcerated and released in the last decade.
They said the biggest challenge they face with former inmates isn't just getting them jobs and re-connecting them with the support networks that can help them stay clean and out of trouble, it's changing the way they
"Mentally, they're still incarcerated," Ortega said. "This program gives them a way out."
Peer mentors are just one of the services the center offers, but they represent part of a paradigm shift in the county Probation Department that has made the center what it is, Mitchell said.
"The mentality we've taken is, 'whatever it takes," said Mitchell, who actually went to San Quentin State Prison after the Realignment Act passed to ask soon-to-be-released prisoners what kind of services they wanted when they got out. That's when she started calling them "clients" rather than "offenders."
"It's just a whole different philosophical change. When you look at the people that you supervise as clients, you think about it differently."
--Bay City News Service