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Early Prisoner Release a Fiscal Challenge

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    NEWSLETTERS

    California is under federal court orders to reduce prison overcrowding by 30,000-plus inmates by July 2013, so low-level prisoners could be sent to county jails, triggering an early release of jail inmates.

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    Women inmates who are mothers, and have less than two years left on sentences for non-violent, non-sexual crimes could soon qualify for home releases with GPS monitoring.

    But the state is only reimbursing the counties for half of what it spends on the prisoners and parolees.

    That could create a financial crunch for the providers of ex-inmate housing, re-entry education and vocational training.

    "I'm optimistic, but I'm also very conservative," said Scott Silverman, whose nonprofit Second Chance organization has found employment for nearly 2,000 former prison inmates in San Diego since its establishment in 1993.

    "I know we can't take more with less (funding)," he said.  "We are also willing to take more if we get some" additional funding.

    Multi-agency "community corrections partnerships" throughout the state are working to address that issue.

    One such effort, the "Re-Entry Roundtable" in San Diego County, brings together law enforcement, parole and probation departments, social services and nonprofit organizations.

    The mission is to give ex-offenders the skills to compete in an already desperate job market while putting the criminal 'strikes' against them in the past.

    "We're going to try to handle as many people as we can, but our beds are full," said Silverman, whose agency participates in the roundtable.

    "We're trying to start waiting lists now," he said. "But the problem is, people who are just getting out of incarceration are not going to wait around."

    San Diego County figures to get about $25 million from the roughly $400 million that the Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation is allocating to local lockups and re-entry programs.

    That statewide amount is scheduled to double next fiscal year and reach $1.2 billion the following fiscal year.

    But nothing can be taken for granted in the California budget process.

    Re-entry experts say the incarceration cycle can't be broken without education and vocational training -- which in recent years has been reduced to almost nonexistent levels.

    And even with employment in the mix, it's still a real challenge.

    "It really takes a change in their thinking, from the old criminal thinking to how does somebody on the outside just go to work every single day?" said Anita Paredes, a re-entry counselor for San Diego's Project New Start/Jobworks.

    "It's quite a change sometimes," Paredes said. "You don't change a person overnight when it's taken them years to get where they're at."

    That's where close-order, hands-on, community-based counseling comes in. 

    "We're going to help them become decent people with some honesty, integrity and accountability," said David Durocher, a Los Angeles-area representative of San Francisco-based Delancey Street Foundation. "So they don't make the same decisions that brought them to prison to begin with."

    CORRECTION: An earlier verision of this story incorrectly stated that California prison inmates would be released as early as this week. The legislation goes into effect Oct. 1, and "no inmates currenty in state prison will be transferred to county jails or released early," according to the California Department of Corrections. More information on their website.

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