By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer
California is making big strides in working together to keep offenders out of the cycle of incarceration, ultimately making neighborhoods safer.
As California has shifted its focus to rehabilitation and better preparing offenders for their transition back into their communities, success stories like Ruben Tovar and Paul Thomas are becoming more common.
Tovar and Thomas, along with 11 other Stockton-area parolees, recently graduated from an intensive reentry program operated by BI Incorporated (subsidiary to The Geo Group, Inc).
The parolees were recognized for their dedication to completing the program which primarily focuses on the individual’s specific rehabilitative needs.
“It’s all about you. It’s your choices, your life, your mistakes,” said Tovar. “(The program) makes you take responsibility and be honest with yourself.”
Tovar said that the program has helped him develop better interpersonal skills such as trust and honesty which has significantly improved his relationships with his family. According to experts, it’s an important part of decreasing the likelihood an offender will return to prison.
The Keynote Speaker at the ceremony was Keith Lane, coordinator for the CalTrans Parolee Work Crew Program. Lane discussed his own battles with self-improvement in the face of adversity and the commitment it takes to improve your own life.
“You have to face your fears, whether they be fears of failure or success,” Lane said to the graduates. “Don’t stop taking control and making changes to your life.”
To successfully complete the reentry program, offenders must complete a cognitive behavioral program developed to change criminal thinking and behavior. Participants must maintain sobriety for 90 days and participate in at least 90 percent of their prescribed group meetings.
It’s a rigorous program, so to reach graduation indicates a huge commitment to the offenders’ own rehabilitation, according to those involved.
J.T. Weaver, Western Regional Director for The Geo Group, has been working with offenders for 26 years and said he has seen “amazing” changes happen within offenders who complete the program.
“Our primary goal is to reduce recidivism,” Weaver said. “We focus on cognitive change, the way they see themselves, their environment, and the way they interact with that environment.”
Another one of the participants who has transformed his life is Paul Thomas. He not only excelled in taking ownership of his own rehabilitation but was also presented the “Excellence in Leadership” award for encouraging others to take the necessary steps to change their lives as well.
“I’d say, come into it with an open mind and that’s when opportunities start popping up,” he told the gathering.
Thomas is so committed to his own success he now drives more than two hours every day to attend the Northern California Construction Training Program in Sacramento. He’s currently working on obtaining certificates in construction and carpentry.
All the offenders who participated in the graduation event are now either employed or enrolled in community college. They are both significant indicators of whether an offender is likely to re-offend or not.
Also in attendance to support the graduates were parole agents from the Stockton area.
Parole Agent Kendrick Brown was recognized at the ceremony for his unending commitment to the success of those returning to the community.
“Just placing a parolee in a program isn’t going to work,” Brown said to the group. “You have to nurture them, guide them and encourage them.”
Brown has personally seen offenders go from being homeless when first arriving on parole and into the community, to now staying clean from drugs, graduating from the intensive reentry program, gaining employment and reuniting with family members.
Partnerships like those between California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and BI Incorporated are changing lives. The evidence of this is clear when speaking to the parolees who are making the changes and committing to never going back to prison.