Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories on the Division of Adult Parole Operations’ Three Years to Excellence plan, the people making it happen, the effects on California parolees and the plan’s various components.

Story by Luis Patino, Public Information Officer II
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications

“I had a lot of work to do to get me right,” says 6-foot-3 former life-term prison inmate Walter Anderson. It will soon be a year since he walked out of California State Prison-Solano.

Walter Anderson

The parolee who was once convicted of murder in the second degree and assault with a deadly weapon is now all about “being real.” That’s the only way, he says, to help people understand what it takes to help parolees help themselves achieve redemption and renewal.

Going through a tough self-assessment and goal-setting process is also the best way to illustrate the extraordinary efforts CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) is undertaking to help former offenders like Anderson get back on track.

These efforts were recognized earlier this year when DAPO earned its first ever accreditation from the American Correctional Association (ACA) and accepted its  designation as being among the best of the best in the field of corrections nationwide.

“Our agents work tirelessly to improve public safety and they are truly outstanding professionals who are committed to their job and the people and families they work with,” said DAPO Director Jerry Powers. “The variety of programs and supervision that we have are a true benefit to the community, and it is our goal to ensure that those coming out of our prisons have the resources and support to lead productive lives on the outside.”

Anderson clearly remembers the moment he decided to change his outlook and focus on becoming a changed man. He was sitting with his correctional counselor pushing for a chance to work in prison and make money. The counselor, he says, told him in plain terms: “You are in here for a heinous, heinous crime. What happened to the part of getting yourself together? What kind of trade you got?”

Anderson recalls the counselor’s words that really hit home: “You ran off the highway of life and over the cliff. You got all these dents, you got a broken windshield, tires out, but your engine is still kicking though. So therefore you’ve got to put yourself together again.” He said, “You’ve got to make this car brand new and shiny so when you get in front of that board (of parole hearings), one of the board members will say, I want that car sitting up in my garage.”

“That philosophy stuck in my head, man.”  Anderson said, as he lowered his head.

It must have. While in prison, he began taking classes and joined self-help programs like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous. The former gang-member finally earned parole almost 35 years after being incarcerated in 1983.

He says his continued transformation is fueled by his faith and the desire to stay on the right path. He’s grateful he has DAPO to help him keep moving forward. His parole agent connected him with the Sacramento County Office of Education where he’s taken behavioral courses like Relapse Prevention, Family Intervention and Life Skills.

Now, at almost 57 years old, Anderson has a job on the overnight shift as a maintenance man at a local retail store. He’s also running his own small business selling his paintings and taking classes to improve his artistic talents.

“I got to be a bright light,” Anderson says. “I got to show everybody that we can do bad, but with the love of God we have up there above us, if you’re true in your heart, he’ll help you get right.”

Three years to excellence

What Anderson didn’t realize is that DAPO is halfway through a transformation of its own via the “Three Years to Excellence” plan, which began being implemented in the spring of 2016. It’s meant to forge a path for a culture change on how parole supervision is viewed and administered.  DAPO’s goals now go beyond simply enforcing parole conditions. Specifically, there are five tenants to the program:  Family Systems Theory, Enhanced Case Management, Professional Development, implementing a Virtual Integrated Mobile Office and the attainment of the American Correctional Association accreditation.

Family Systems Theory

This approach is designed to restore the healthy functioning of the parolee’s family by helping change the parolee’s dysfunctional behavior. Its goal is to make parole more successful by involving every family member so they know the types of changes a parolee must make, including changing attitudes and behavior that led to past criminal behavior.

Associate Director Marvin Speed explains, “In short, it is a roadmap to helping more parolees like Anderson succeed by helping them overcome self-destructive behaviors that can affect their entire family. We work with the parolee’s family to help them understand their loved one’s challenges and participate in helping the parolees adjust to their new life outside prison.”

Anderson’s wife Lonnie says that type of approach is sorely needed by families trying to reunify after someone gets out of prison. “The wives, girlfriends or whoever, they need some kind of guidance when the guys come out, because even for me that I’ve known Walt a long time, even I get frustrated with him. I had to stop (getting frustrated) because he don’t know.”  Things like cellphones and other technologies, for example, are completely foreign to anyone who’s spent the majority of their lives in prison. Mrs. Anderson says he isn’t even used to having control over the houselights or other things most people take for granted. She says they’re doing great now, but it takes understanding and caring.

Enhanced case management

The Family Systems theory has become DAPO’s main reintegration philosophy for case management. Chief Deputy Regional Parole Administrator Jon Stern says the work culture change starts at the very beginning.   “We improved our academy training curriculum so that it includes the same critical techniques taught with the most updated law enforcement methods. It also emphasizes the essential ideology that most of our parolees are parents. The more we keep their families together, the better the parole performance will be and the better their family will be. That is where long term behavior change takes hold,” says Stern.   “Our academy curriculum also now includes college-level case management techniques based on social work best practices. These tried and true techniques are taught by professors from Sacramento State University,” adds Assistant Deputy Director Brenda Crowding.

Professional development

In addition, DAPO is improving the way it develops leaders within its own ranks to strengthen safeguards for the public, deliver higher quality service to its clients and meet or exceed the expectation of DAPO’s clients, community partners and other law enforcement agencies.

Virtual Integrated Mobile Office (VIMO)

Gone are the days of the huge binders that parole agents had to carry to document their home visits and interactions with parolees. DAPO now empowers agents with specially developed technology and software – the Virtual Integrated Mobile Office (VIMO) – to help agents work more safely and efficiently by accessing records through a cell phone and connecting the parolee to rehabilitation services quickly and effectively. They also have much more time to spend listening and visiting their clients instead of doing desk work.

All of these improvements have gained DAPO recognition at a national level.

Americal Correctional Association accreditation

A team led by Marvin Speed, Parole Administrator Alma Underwood and Parole Agent III Davies Sasere helped prepare six parole offices statewide for extensive audits and evaluations to prove DAPO meets or exceeds national standards and sets a national benchmark for the way parole operations should be managed.  Sasere, who was instrumental in leading the accreditation efforts from the American Correctional Association, says the statistics verified in the audit of the number of parolees, like Anderson on DAPO’s caseload in the 12 months prior to accreditation are indicative of the excellence to which DAPO has risen.  Sasere says the numbers told a very strong story.

“For example, of the 59,233 parolees on DAPO’s caseload those 12 months, the total who were convicted of a new crime was 2,866. That’s an astonishingly low 5 percent. When it comes to staying off drugs, there was yet another huge success. Of the 133,066 random drug tests administered to parolees, 126,770 were negative. That’s a 95 percent pass rate!”

Results like these are the reason the ACA accreditation means so much to the men and women of DAPO.

“The accreditation by the oldest, largest, and most prestigious correctional organization in the world was laborious and wide-reaching, but our agents came through with 100 percent approval ratings! Everyone at DAPO should be extremely proud of this achievement,” says Underwood.

Parolee Anderson agrees, “Oh, I think they more than deserve it. I’ve seen all the people that’s in there. They really go far beyond to help people.”

Achieving excellence is how the men and women of DAPO are striving to inspire parolees who are seeking redemption and renewal. In the process, DAPO is now recognized as one of America’s best correctional agencies.