By Alexandra Powell, PIO, OPEC
and Matthew Westbrook, AGPA, Office of External Affairs
Part of CDCR’s mission is to provide effective rehabilitation and treatment so offenders can successfully integrate back into the community. The Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) has an active role by providing a range of programs and services to parolees while encouraging and assisting in their rehabilitative efforts.
Much of DAPO’s work is with offenders once they are paroled; however, the transition from prison to parole begins well before an offender is released. DAPO’s Northern Region Adult Programs Unit (APU) recently hosted Reentry Resource Fairs at Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF) and California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC).
DAPO regularly facilitates Resource Fairs in the community for parolees, but these were unique because they were a collaborative in-reach event within the institution. They seek to engage inmates prior to their release to learn about what resources and opportunities are available. Nearly 30 service providers attended each event to offer inmates assistance and hope in their journey to parole and life outside of prison.
“It gives me a big glimpse of hope, because there are a lot of resources that I wasn’t aware of, that parolees had available,” said Brian Lewis, a lifer at SAC.
The March 10 event at SAC was the first-ever Resource Fair at the level four institution, and amassed a turnout of more than 300 long-term offenders (LTO). Recognizing that every paroling offender will have a unique set of needs, APU made sure to invite providers that would best suit the audience at each prison.
The LTO population can face unique challenges when returning to society after spending what may be decades in prison. Some of those challenges include locating housing in a new or changed area, finding meaningful employment and reuniting with friends and family who may have moved on during the offender’s absence.
Provider Barrios Unidos of Santa Cruz was present at both Resource Fairs. The organization’s Prison Project connects offenders to programs and services that help reduce recidivism, support reentry and reunify families.
“It is very important to provide information and services while they are incarcerated,” said Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez, Executive Director for Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos. “When people are not prepared [to parole] it is much harder to adjust, get the resources, or move around the community without any kind of positive connections.”
The Feb. 24 Resource Fair at FWF was also the first of its kind at the institution, with 200 female offenders in attendance. This in-reach event provided women offenders an opportunity to learn how they can continue their rehabilitative efforts once they go home.
To ensure the needs of these inmates would be addressed, APU invited providers aimed to specifically help female offenders succeed once released from prison. This included child support services, family planning, child care services, parenting education and providers specializing in gender-specific substance abuse treatment and employment training.
“This fair is gender-responsive because we know women have different pathways into prison” said Angela Kent, acting Assistant Regional Administrator for DAPO. “We are mindful to bring in resources specific to a woman’s needs.”
One of those resources was Community Works West, a Bay Area organization with gender-specific programs to help connect female offenders with services like housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health programs and family support.
“A lot of [paroling] women don’t have necessities as far as housing, employment and a reunification plan for their families. Without a plan, a lot of girls can fail because they just go back to the same environment of addiction, or an abusive relationship,” said Magali Rivera, a Reentry Counselor and Case Manager for Community Works West.
Preparing for life after parole comes with its challenges. DAPO is taking steps to help ease the transition from prison to parole and realizes that educating offenders about available resources before they are paroled will better prepare them for their successful reintegration into the community.
The Reentry Resource Fairs at FWF and SAC aim to provide hope for offenders as they continue their rehabilitative efforts and connect them with the services they need so they will be prepared.
“These women are already familiar with the vocational and self-help programs they receive while in prison, but may feel that those types of services end when they parole,” said FWF Associate Warden Tracy Johnson. “This fair lets them know when they parole, they are not forgotten.”
DAPO is looking forward to hosting similar Resource Fairs at other CDCR institutions across the state.
“This event was an example of the developing collaboration within CDCR, including both staff and inmates, to embrace the changes in culture and process going on in the department,” said SAC Warden David Baughman. “We are providing more rehabilitative opportunities and options to advance the successes and reduce recidivism.”