Prisoner Rehab makes a comeback

Project Proposed to Reduce Parolee Recidivism

by Martha Sadler

SBJail-File.gifThe state’s top prison official visited
the county this week at the request of outgoing Sheriff Jim
Anderson, to help promote a project that they hope will prepare
more felons to lead law-abiding lives after they are released back
into society. James Tilton, secretary of the California Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation, dangled before county
supervisors the possibility of a full-immersion rehab program
backed up by a phalanx of new state parole officers. Ideally, the
state would also help fund the facility’s construction in
conjunction with a new North County jail — the jail that Anderson
talked about building throughout his recent, unsuccessful campaign
for reelection. Even though it would house state prisoners at the
end of their sentences, not people sentenced to county jail time,
the project would have the effect of reducing jail overcrowding
because convicts on their way to state prison are first housed in
the county jail. Tilton emphasized that the state prison facility
would be exclusively for convicts from Santa Barbara. Based on
other states’ experience, he estimated that such a facility would
reduce recidivism rates from 67 percent to — at best — 47 percent,
saving $7 in justice system costs for every $1 invested.

There are several hurdles to overcome before a prisoners’
rehabilitation facility becomes a reality. One is that the
legislature has yet to approve funding for any such project.

Tilton, who was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to
revamp the prison system, said that as far as he is concerned,
prisons should focus on transitioning convicts back into society
from the moment they enter the gate, and all new prison
construction should consist of rehab facilities in various
counties. However, in the more likely event that only a single
pilot project is initially funded, Santa Barbara County faces some
tough competition. One of the other contenders is San Francisco,
where Local 22 is already training some 200 prisoners to become
union carpenters. Tilton suggested that Santa Barbara parolees
might be put to work helping Habitat for Humanity build housing,
and he noted that preliminary fundraising and planning for an
expanded North County jail makes Santa Barbara an attractive
candidate. In addition, an informal group of law enforcement
representatives has been discussing rehabilitation schemes for more
than a year.

Sheriff-elect Bill Brown, although he has been highly skeptical
of Anderson’s plans for a new jail, expressed full support for this
idea. The Board of Supervisors was enthusiastic but expressed some
nervousness about how it would be received in the North County,
where a prison rehab facility would most likely be located. “When
we have folks saying to us that they don’t want affordable housing
next to them,” said 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno, “I wonder
how they are going to react to this.” Supporters responded that
they had met with nothing but support across the ideological
spectrum when the idea was discussed face-to-face. Joan Petersilia,
a Santa Barbara author and former RAND Corporation prison expert
who has acted as a consultant on rehabilitation facilities in
various states, asked rhetorically, “Who do you want sitting next
to your children on the bus — someone with a plan, or someone who
just got out of 24-hour-a-day lockdown? Men like that get off the
Greyhound in Lompoc all the time.”

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