San Diego Tackles Prisoner Recidivism Rates
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Frederick Recupido, 35, recently arrived in San Diego after spending much of the last decade serving two terms in Tahachapi State Prison, located near Bakersfield.
“I had no place to go,” he said. “My family’s support is there, it’s just not as it used to be because this is the second time.”
Recupido was one of the almost 70 percent of state parolees who don’t make it on the outside, and end up back in prison. His first prison term was from 2003 to 2009.
“It was a violence under the influence,” he said. “I got out in June of 2009 and started to do pretty well. But not following through with what I was taught on how to stay clean off drugs. I fell back again into my addiction and got in trouble for possession of a controlled substance.”
When he got out of prison the second time, Recupido was determined to make a go of it.
“It’s come to the point in my life where I’m tired,” he said. “I’m physically, mentally and spiritually tired.”
When Recupido heard about a program in San Diego that works with ex-offenders, he wrote to them from prison and was accepted. Upon release, he was given $200 “gate” money -- just enough to buy a set of clothes and toiletries, and get himself to San Diego.
“If I was left to my own devices with no place to go, that little bit of money would have either got me under the influence or a criminal way of thinking would be to make more money with what I have,” he said.
Instead, Recupido came to a house in City Heights run by a nonprofit called Second Chance. He shares it with other post-release offenders who are working to get a foothold back in society. His rent is free for the first 60 days - as long as he sticks with the program, and stays clean and sober.
Coming out of prison is not the same as leaving county jail, says John MaCartney, who’s been a probation officer in San Diego for 14 years.
“You go to prison for a good term, you spend six years,” he said.” Probation, you spend maybe 90 days. You may be able to continue what you did prior to being arrested and put in custody. After six years, it’s very hard to come back and re-establish those real connections, those family ties.”
Macartney has a brand new caseload of 51 offenders who, like Recupido, come not from county jail, but from state prison. Almost half of his clients have no place to stay when they get out, and even the ones with family only get a temporary roof over their heads, he says.
“They get out and go directly home to their parents and say, ‘Hey, I’m home,’ and they get the look: ‘We’ll give you a meal but you can’t stay here because we don’t want law enforcement coming to the house and we’ve reestablished our own ties.’ It opens their eyes.”
MaCartney says there are a few nonprofit community organizations where he can refer probationers for housing, but not many.
Recupido is one of the lucky ones: He’s landed in a program that gives him a place to stay, and support to turn his life around and find a job.
Alex Macias, a client services specialist with Second Chance, said if Recupido gets a job and is earning money, he’ll be able to transition into housing with subsidized rent of about $425 a month.
“I think housing is very important,” Macias said. “A person who comes out and doesn’t have a place to stay really is behind the eight ball. You actually need a residence to get a job - and you need a job to get a residence. It’s that catch-22: you have to have one to get the other. So it’s really important for them to have a place to stay. I think that’s crucial for them to complete probation."
To avoid building more jail cells, San Diego hopes to bring the recidivism rate for this new class of offenders from state prison down from 70 percent to 40 percent. That’s close to the recidivism rate for offenders coming out of county jail.
But that’s a tall order: Recupido is optimistic that even though he’s still living in a house with other ex-offenders, he will stay out of trouble this time. Prisoners write to him from prison, he said, and they’re anxious about how they’ll survive when they come out. Having the support of the Second Chance program is making a difference for him.
“It’s given me a freedom that’s driven me to do better,” he said.
San Diego’s Probation Department now has the responsibility to monitor about 400 prisoners who have been released from state prison. They expect 1,200 in the first six months. The plan is to hire almost 100 new probation officers.
The department is actively looking for community partners like Second Chance to help them keep offenders out of jail, but there’s no guarantee state money will be available to support the work of those nonprofits.
Video by Nicholas McVicker