By Nadine Ono.
San Bernardino County is giving some of the county’s jail inmates a chance to successfully reenter society through the new Sheriff’s Parole Reintegration Pilot Program, a collaboration between the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the Cal State San Bernardino Reentry Initiative(CSRI).
“We have a number of low-risk, repeat offenders who cycle in and out of jail,” said San Bernardino County Undersheriff Shannon Dicus. “We wanted to figure out a way to reach this group and give them the support and skills they need to stay out of jail. So with the help of CDCR and CSRI, we created this pilot program.”
The innovative program, which started in January, allows 12 selected inmates the chance to live outside jail, but they must maintain certain criteria and wear a GPS ankle monitor as they are still classified as in custody.
Assistant Sheriff Dicus reached out to CSRI, a partnership of California State University San Bernardino and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which operates four day reporting centers for state parolees in the region, and CA Fwd, a county partner working on reducing jail populations through justice system reform.
“San Bernardino County is well equipped to take on this type of program,” said Scott MacDonald, who leads CA Fwd’s Justice System Change Initiative. “From the support of the Sheriff to the county’s Reentry Collaborative, the county is working toward reducing recidivism.” The San Bernardino County Reentry Collaborative is a partnership of county agencies, community organizations and individuals that works on successful reentry and the long-term success of the formerly incarcerated.
“We back-researched low-risk offenders with prior parole that fit under a certain criteria that we already have pre-set through San Bernardino County Sheriff’s,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff Sergeant Stacey Schneiderwent. “These people have been hand selected. We went through their backgrounds, what their current charge is and found out if they have family/friend support.” Each participant must have residential support either through family or a friend to be part of the pilot.
She added “We’re trying to pick people who have four to ten month sentences so they can work the program. We hope the outcome is that they get placed in a job, they’re working successfully and they make it to their out date with us.”
Upon entering the program, participants will meet with his or her case manager and receive their class schedule. They are required to attend classes at the CSRI center, which includes a range of subjects from job readiness to substance abuse education. They must also pass regular drug tests. As they complete classes and receive positive feedback from their case managers, they will be rewarded with time away from their home. The more classes and positive feedback they get, the more hours they are rewarded.
“And because it’s a pilot, we’re now identifying the hurdles, what kinds of issues get them back in jail,” said CSRI Director of Operations Elaine Zucco. “They follow the same rules as our guys [from CDCR] and so they have to have perfect attendance. You have to remember that these are folks who are still in custody.”
If a participant misses a class or a meeting with their case manager or test positive for drugs, they are removed from the program and taken back into custody. There is no room for errors. But CSRI is seeing a trend from the few who have failed out of the pilot.
“When individuals have failed, it has been because of lapses in judgment,” said Zucco. “The reasons they’re going back (to jail), I’m proud to say, is not because they’re endangering the public. It’s because they made stupid choices and the Sheriff is on top of it.” When a participant fails out of the program, a replacement is found.
Word of the pilot program is spreading and Schneiderwent and her team are receiving applications from inmates interested in participating. “I think some of them see it as a way out because who wouldn’t want to come out for free,” she said. “We talk to them at first and they say, ‘Yeah, I’m getting out today’ and month later they say, ‘Hey, they’re really going to get me a job.’”
And although the pilot is only months old, Schneiderwent said some participants are seeing that they can be successful outside of jail. “We have one guy already in the desert who was a fork lift operator. He was job ready and he’s doing really well.” She added, “Some may not have a trade or know what to do, but they all have said that this has been a great transition for them. Typically for county inmates, we just release out. We don’t transition them in. Some of them have said this is good because ‘I’ve never had a place to go with someone to help me get to the next step.’”
The next step for the pilot is a six-month evaluation. “After a year, our hope is that it will be a successful program, that a large percentage of folks from the Sheriff’s department will be completing the program, that they will have not reoffended, and that then we might look at how we can grow the project,” said CSRI’s Director of Program Quality Andrea Mitchel. “We need to look at how much money are we saving the Sheriff’s Department, how much money are we saving CDCR, how much money are we saving the system.”
According to MacDonald, “The idea is simple. If we use this structured community supervision approach to establish sustainable positive change, jail recidivism will go down, and fewer non-serious offenders will take up jail space. Everyone benefits: the community from a public safety perspective, the participant and the tax payer.”
From the early feedback from participants, according to Schneiderwent, the pilot looks like it’s on track. “They’re just so proud. They say, ‘This is the first time you’ve offered me something different; I’ve been arrested so many different times. This is the first time you’ve offered me somewhere to go, a reason to not go this direction and to help us get a job.’”