The CDCR team that pulled together to write the successful Second Chance Act Reentry Program grant, from left, Staff Services Manager II (A) Heidi Lozano, Chief of Research Denise Allen, Chief Clinical Program Administrator Lisa Heintz, Research Program Specialist II Kendra Jensen and Section Chief Ashley Gabbard.

The CDCR team that pulled together to write the successful Second Chance Act Reentry Program grant, from left, Staff Services Manager II (A) Heidi Lozano, Chief of Research Denise Allen, Chief Clinical Program Administrator Lisa Heintz, Research Program Specialist II Kendra Jensen and Section Chief Ashley Gabbard.

Department emphasizes importance of mental health, substance use treatment

Story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Photo by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

CDCR is leading the way in using innovative programs to support offender reentry, and this fall the federal government recognized that fact.

The Department was awarded a Second Chance Act Reentry Program for Adults with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Disorders Grant by the U.S. Attorney General for the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Since 2009, the BJA has awarded more than $475 million to help state, local and tribal government agencies and community organizations implement pilot programs and enhance the provision of services to formerly incarcerated people returning to their communities. CDCR’s portion of the funding will enhance the assessment and services it provides to some of the highest-risk parolees returning home: those offenders diagnosed with both mental health and substance use disorders.

“Returning home from prison is difficult in and of itself,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The challenges are amplified in the population living with these co-occurring disorders. I’m proud of this department for recognizing both the need for and the opportunity to enhance these critical services.”

The grant provides $640,197 over three years to enhance the existing Parole Outpatient Clinic (POC) Case Management Reentry Program, which provides mental health assessments, case management, and treatment upon release from prison and throughout parole. With an in-kind contribution of staff hours  from CDCR of approximately $489,900 , the pilot program will now serve those with co-occurring disorders, beginning with assessing offenders and developing a case plan while they are still incarcerated.

“This grant is really in line with the department’s mission to focus on beginning reentry in the institutions,” said Denise Allen, CDCR Chief of Research. “We are transitioning offenders back into the community using clinical assessments to identify risks and needs, in order to provide transitional support services upon reentry.”

The grant is recognition of not only CDCR’s innovation, but also the strong teamwork necessary across all divisions to facilitate offender success. To qualify for, obtain and implement the grant-funded pilot, the Office of Research worked alongside the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP).

“This is very exciting that CDCR was awarded this grant,” said DRP Deputy Director Cynthia Florez-DeLyon. “We certainly overcame a tremendous task from convening its first meeting in late February 2016 to writing the reentry grant proposal and submitting it successfully by the application due date.”

“Everybody rolled up their sleeves and worked together to make this happen,” Allen said. “This kind of strategic planning shows how far our agency has come in breaking down barriers across divisions and really putting offenders’ needs first.”

CDCR Parole Administrator Lisa Heintz explained how the POC Case Management model allows DAPO to ensure parolees are adjusting to the community, and working with the Office of Research provides for formal tracking of offender success.

“This is absolutely a team effort,” she said. “DAPO is in constant communication with every division involved to ensure these offenders are receiving the appropriate services and treatment.”

The pilot will serve 600 offenders, who will begin the process 120 days prior to release. A clinical assessment will be performed in prison, and the offenders will begin working with their parole agent and case workers to develop a case plan tailored to their identified needs. Once paroled, participants will receive services at pilot sites in Kern, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco counties.

“We will assist all participants in getting their Medi-Cal benefits in place, and transition them to a reentry program that will treat their co-occurring disorder,” Allen said. “That can include medicated assisted treatment, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, and assistance with housing, which is huge. All of those factors help stabilize people in the community.”

The population to be served by the grant are among the highest risk of reoffending. According to CDCR’s Outcome Evaluation Report, offenders with mental health designations recidivate at rates substantially higher than the average three-year return-to-prison rate of 44.6 percent. Correctional Clinical Case Management System participants have a 59.3 percent return-to-prison rate, while those who received a higher level of mental health treatment in the Enhanced Outpatient Program have a 69.6 percent return-to-prison rate. And while the overall recidivism rate is trending downward across all other types of offenders, it is holding steady for the mental health population, which very often needs substance use treatment as well. In addition, these offenders often require very specialized assistance, such as help filling out paperwork and scheduling medication.

The program will ensure there is no lapse in medication between prison and community, and will enable a housing specialist to support DAPO in connecting parolees with housing services.

“They will really work as a team, with parole staff, to develop a realistic case plan that includes what services the offender has had and what services the offender will need,” Allen said. “Immediately after parole, that offender can be handed off to parole staff in the community to be linked to those services.”

Over the course of the pilot, Office of Research staff will set benchmarks and monitor outcomes to examine how well the program is serving participants. Their data will inform the development of best practices, and whether the program is viable for expansion. Nearly two years into the POC program, the department is already seeing success in offenders adjusting to their communities.

“Ultimately it comes down to harm reduction,” Kernan said. “An offender with stable housing, whose mental health and substance use needs are being met, and who knows a support system is in place is more likely to succeed – and that amounts to fewer victims and increased public safety.”