Four Corners and Nowhere to Turn
Ex-offender programs and substance-abuse treatment faccilities — halfway houses — help provide the transition into society that keeps recently released prisoners from reverting to previous criminal behavior. But state budget cuts threaten their continued existence.
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Indeed. As a parolee no longer living in an approved treatment program, Ybarra could be found in violation of the terms of her parole and sent back to Chowchilla.
A solution to the problem of all the future Laura Ybarras in the world came in the form of SB 18 XXX, the Corrections Reform Bill that went into effect in January, which created incentives for inmates to participate in programs while still incarcerated. It too allowed for nonviolent prisoners to be released early from county jails and state prisons, but this time around there was a strange new caveat: Inmates meeting the qualifications for an early release would be returned to society without parole or the supervision of a parole officer. They would be known as “nonrevocable parolees” (NRP).
This is supposed to reduce prison overcrowding and to free up parole agents’ calendars. CDCR claims the current supervision ratio is a staggering 70-1. Proponents say the measure would reduce ratios to 45-1 at a savings of $100 million.
But critics of the NRP status say it would actually cost more in the long run. Under the old system, parolees found to be in violation for any reason could be sent back to prison. Now, ex-offenders who break the law but have nonrevocable parole status must first be apprehended by law enforcement and then prosecuted by the D.A.’s office, all at taxpayer expense.
“We don’t think that [nonrevocable parole] is the best thing for public safety,” says Rodriguez. “Also, it doesn’t provide any direction for the people getting out of prison. No one is telling them what to do or helping them with the issues that caused them to commit crimes.”
And they will be coming home in large numbers. Depending on whom you talk to, the number of ex-offenders returning to San Diego ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 per year. The Corrections Reform Bill would inflate that number by thousands more nonrevocable parolees.
“I don’t know how this neighborhood is gonna house that many people with no programs, no housing and no jobs,” says Celina Brown, the program coordinator for CRASH.
In response to the state’s recidivism problem, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis began hosting a community-reentry roundtable as early as 2006. From those roundtable talks came the bones for SB 618, authored by Senator Jackie Speier, a measure that provides for an effective way to get treatment while behind bars. With an annual budget of $3 million, SB 618 provides substance abuse recovery, education, vocational training and case management for up to 18 months following release from prison.
Rodriguez says that at present, 650 inmates are enrolled in the programs, available at Richard J. Donovan State Prison in Otay and the California Institute for Women in Chino. She says preliminary reports show the rate of recidivism among participants has been knocked down to close to 20 percent. “No other city [in California] has adopted SB 618,” she says. “We’re at the forefront in San Diego.”
In the final days of June, Laura Ybarra got an 11th-hour reprieve. Her parole agent allowed her to move into Crossroads’ less stringent sober-living dorm. “She’s got a job at a convalescent home,” says Dr. Taylor, hardly able to disguise the joy in her voice. “They hired her without an ID.”
Later, Taylor says what she prays for at night. “I wish I could open up a ranch,” she says, settling back into an office chair, smiling and closing her eyes, “where the ladies could work, recover and love themselves again.”