Well on their way: Reentry program participants earn praise from judge

MCRP model sets offenders on right track

Photos and story by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Office of Public and Employee Communications

For the men seated in the Butte County courtroom, the scene was at once all too familiar and strikingly new.

The last time David Jones and Manuel Bedoya were in court, they had been sentenced to prison terms. On this day, they were before Court Commissioner Leonard Goldkind not for judgment of their crimes, but for praise of the work they have done to change their lives.

“You have set the bar pretty high for yourselves,” Goldkind told the men. “You set goals, you met them, and I can’t think of anything else worth more admiration than that in any aspect of life, but particularly here.”

Goldkind volunteers his time on a regular basis to evaluate the files of participants in the Male Community Reentry Program (MCRP), a reentry program that allows eligible offenders to serve up to the last 12 months of their sentence in the community program in lieu of state prison. While at MCRP, participants take place in an immersive rehabilitative curriculum focused on successful reentry, from anger management and addressing criminal thinking classes to resume-building workshops and job-search skills.

“I never thought, ever in my life, that a judge would speak about me in that type of way,” Bedoya said. “It was almost unbelievable – it was surreal.”

Goldkind reviews the participants’ files, taking the time to acknowledge their work in various programs geared toward successful futures. The reviews are held as men complete MCRP and are preparing to return home. Several times, the men seated in the courtroom were astutely aware of the significance of what was happening – because Goldkind had been the judge who sentenced them years ago.

MCRPs are located in Los Angeles, San Diego, Kern County and Oroville, where the MCRP is operated as a unique partnership of CDCR and the Butte County Probation Department. One side of the building houses MCRP participants, and the other serves parolees through the Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming model. All receive services through Tri-County Treatment (TCT), although STOP and MCRP participants are housed and program separately.

“We have huge advantages because we are linked with the county,” said Correctional Counselor III Justin Kelly. “We are connected to county resources, including Behavioral Health, and we have a second law enforcement agency right here. They know what we are trying to do and everybody is on board.”

In addition to Kelly, staff at MCRP includes a parole agent and 24-7 correctional officer coverage, in addition to three probation staff members and six to eight TCT counselors and support staff. The partnership with probation is beneficial not only for support at MCRP, but also once the participants return home, as several are released to probation custody.

“There are great advantages to having this program with CDCR,” said Mike Rogers, supervising probation officer. “We see it as a humongous advantage to be able to connect with these offenders up to six months before we get them. That was one of the things we really bought into when we first looked at this – how could we not do this?”

Indeed, the relationship among law enforcement and participants is a unique one at MCRP. Both Kelly and Rogers shared that when participants first arrive from prison, they are often unsure of what to expect and how to behave, but once they realize how different the program is from an institution, they start to relax and quickly realize every staff member is there to help them.

In addition to assisting participants with county services, medical care, Social Security cards and IDs, the MCRP family is also there for day-to-day issues, including lending an ear to participants who need to talk and stepping up to provide last-minute support. For example, the day of the judge’s review, Jones realized he did not have a dress shirt to wear to court. A TCT staff member immediately went on the hunt, obtaining a shirt and tie for Jones.

As he waited outside the courtroom, Jones reflected on his 10 years in prison, and how much more difficult his transition home would be without his MCRP experience.

“I think I’m ready,” he said. “I can say I’m more ready than I would be if I had just left prison.”

MCRP was such a help, Jones said, that even though he was given the option to parole to his home county, he chose instead to stay in Butte County, his county of commitment, where he can stay connected with local services and become established in the community.

“At first, the only thought in my mind was to get out of prison,” Jones said, thinking back to when he first found out he qualified for MCRP. “But on top of that, they do help you put yourself in a situation to be able to succeed. They help you get your ID, Social Security, a job – there are a lot of benefits compared with walking out the gate on your own.”

MCRP’s reintegration model is set up in stages, beginning with the participants’ arrival, when they immediately receive their ankle monitors. For the phase of the program, participants do not leave the building without an escort, immersing themselves into the rehabilitative programs. As they progress, participants earn more privileges, ultimately working toward being able to leave during the day to attend job readiness training, go shopping, attend classes and even work.

Many Butte MCRP participants have found work in the community, from grocery stores and restaurants to jobs with the county, including working on boats in the local marina. As the men find their way in the community, including after parole, they often return to MCRP to check in with staff – even though they are not required to do so.

“One man who went through our program told us he didn’t like cops,” Kelly remembered. “But when he left he told us, ‘You guys have turned me around.’ He comes in here about once every two weeks just to say hi to us and everybody else.”

Participants also leave the MCRP for group outings, such as to take a nature walk or give back to the community. For Veterans’ Day, participants and staff volunteered their time at a local cemetery, where they placed hundreds of wreaths on the graves of local veterans.

All that work combined is taken into consideration by Goldkind as he reviews the men’s files, giving them advice to continue their success and commending them for the hard work they continue to do on themselves. The reviews are a welcome reprieve for the judge, who by the time the MCRP group shows up has spent his morning issuing bench warrants, setting bail and conducting arraignments in criminal cases.

“Thank you very much for your efforts,” Goldkind told the participants and staff assembled before him. “Thank you to all of you. This is the one thing I do on Fridays that I truly enjoy, because the rest of the day is not particularly enjoyable.”

The participants and staff are also given the chance to discuss their experience, and many comment that participating in MCRP has equipped them with the tools necessary to respond to the different challenges they will face.

“It has opened my mind to new points of view and knowledge that I didn’t see or believe when I was younger,” Bedoya said. “It makes you think it’s time to grow up.”

As he prepared to return to his home state of Texas, Bedoya said he’s ready to take life one step at a time, just like MCRP taught him. He hopes to find work renovating homes, with the goal of one day owning his own house cleaning and remodeling business, and owning his own rental properties.

For Bedoya, one of the most important things he learned at MCRP was to visualize success, whether that be improving relationships, recovering from addiction or seeking employment. He said if someone in prison is considering MCRP, they should ask themselves some questions to determine whether they are truly ready.

“Where do you want to be? Aren’t you tired of the same stuff? Aren’t you tired of coming back to prison? Aren’t you tired of the same people and places that don’t get you anywhere? Don’t you want to be somebody – don’t you want to break the chain?”

To learn more about MCRP, visit http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/rehabilitation/MCRP.html.

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