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Moms In Calif. Prisons May Be Eligible For Early Release

Above: A mother serving time in a California prison spends the day with her children as part of the state department of correction's "Get On The Bus" program. Photo taken July 2009.

Aired 9/14/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

We'll hear about a prison reduction program that, according to the California Department of Corrections, is more than reducing the number of inmates, it's about breaking the cycle of crime within families.

California is embarking on a complicated series of prison realignment and alternative custody programs aimed at reducing the number of inmates in the state's overcrowded prison system. This week, the department of corrections announced an early release program for qualifying, non-violent female prison inmates.

Guest

Dana Toyama, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, California is embarking on a complicated series of prison realignment, and alternative custody programs aimed at reducing the number of inmates in the state's overcrowded prison system. This week, the department of corrections announced an early release program for qualifying nonviolent female prison inmates. My guest, Dana Toyama is spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Hi Dana.

TOYAMA: Hello. How's it going?

CAVANAUGH: Quite well. Thank you for joining us. Now, this program is about more than reducing the number of inmates. It's about breaking the cycle of crime within families; is that right?

TOYAMA: That's absolutely correct. Senate bill 1266 was aimed at reuniting incarcerated mothers with their families.

CAVANAUGH: What do we know about the connection between mothers serving prison time, and the likely hood of their children winding up in deal?

TOYAMA: Time and time again, family interaction is one of the indicators of a rehabilitation success.

CAVANAUGH: This is something separate and separate from crowding; is that right?

TOYAMA: It is absolutely separate. This is not an early release program. This is an alternative custody program. All inmates that are participating in the program will continue to be under CDCR control, and be revoked back to state prison at any time and for any reason. Almost all participants will be electronically monitored.

CAVANAUGH: First, do we know how many prisoners could potentially be serving out the rest of their sentences back near San Diego because of this alternative custody program?

TOYAMA: Based simply on the eligibility criteria, CDCR has approximately 45% of its female inmates, which estimates out to about 4,000 inmates that could be potentially eligible for this program. Because it is based on an individual's case, it may be significant he lower.

CAVANAUGH: So 4,000 state wide; is that right?

TOYAMA: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: The program was launched on Monday. Have any inmates volunteered to be considered for this program yet?

TOYAMA: Yes. We do have quite a few inmates volunteer for the program. Due to notification requirements to local law enforcement as well as any victims that may apply to an inmate a case, we won't expect any inmates to be out in the community for at least 30 days.

CAVANAUGH: What does the process entail once an inmate volunteer fist are this alternative custody program and what do they have to do?

TOYAMA: Each inmate within custody is assigned a case manager. And a case manager will review the inmate's eligibility. Do they have a home to go to that they can obtain outside rehabilitative services, are there traditional care facilities that have an open bed, are they going to be able to obtain full time employment or education? All these, factors come into play.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I've heard there are some victims' rights groups who aren't too crazy about this idea, saying that the way California defines nonviolent offenders also includes people convicted of weapons possession and maybe false imprison. Battery. Is that -- does that qualify as nonviolent for this program? And do any of these inmates pose a danger to the public?

TOYAMA: All of the offenders that may participate in the alternative custody program are low-level inmates. And CDCR's female inmate population is predominantly drug and property offenders. Low-level offenders without serious or violent crimes. We have a huge majority of our inmates are mothers that are looking to get back with their families. They have received rehabilitative services while they've served their time in CDCR custody. And one of the requirements for continuing their participation in the program is that they continue to receive rehabilitative programs. All participants will be electronically monitored and they can be revoked back to state perspective for any ran at a moment's notice.

CAVANAUGH: And they'll all be wearing ankle bracelets?

TOYAMA: Yes, during their entire participation.

CAVANAUGH: And the ones who are eligible for release, how long left on their sentences do they have to have before they're eligible for this program.

TOYAMA: Each inmate will have to have no more than 24 months history to serve in their sentence.

CAVANAUGH: Speaking with Dana Toyama, she is spokeswoman for the California department of corrections and rehabilitation, and she's telling us about an alternative custody program that's introduced by the California prisons, aimed specifically at nonviolent female offenders. Now, you said that a lot of these prisoners want to go home with their families, that they have been in treatment programs, and they're mothers, and they want to go home to their kids. What requirement for family involvement is this for participants in this program?

TOYAMA: There's no requirement for family interaction or family involvement. About you that is the main aim for this program. We want to reunite family, incarcerated mothers with their families. And like I said again, we've seen time and time again that family interaction is one of the biggest indicators of an inmate's success. And that's what we're hoping to obtain implementing this program.

CAVANAUGH: One of the articles written in one of our papers down here in San Diego, the North County Times, questioned whether or not there are enough nonprofit organizations, halfway homes, etc, who would open their doors or have room in their facilities for these offenders. Has the department of corrections done any investigation into what spaces and what services might be available for these inmates?

TOYAMA: When Senate bill 1266 was signed, we had multiple nonprofit organizations and other rehabilitative services offer their services to the states and to the inmates for free. So this is a fluid program, and some programs may have less beds than others. But hopefully, throughout this program, state wide, more and more nonprofits will offer their beds and services to incarcerated mothers.

CAVANAUGH: There's an interesting side note to this, I think, that the whole idea of alternative custody program may be short lived because it may eventually be Trumped by the new prison realignment program. Can you tell bus that?

TOYAMA: Yes. That is an expectation of this program, that is may be a short lived opportunity. Because CDCR will no longer house the level of inmate that would typically be eligible for this program due to realignment.

CAVANAUGH: So in other words, in the future, a woman who is a nonviolent offender may find themselves doing their entire sentence here in San Diego.

TOYAMA: Yes. Through realignment because they will now be under county custody. They -- all of the custody options are dependent on the county's decision. CD.C. Dr. Has no control over how counties will house these inmates. But yes, that is an option for the counties.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Dana, you sound as if you're pretty familiar with some of the stories that these inmates have in wanting to go home. Tell us anything you know about how you think that this will help, perhaps even with individual stories, individual prisoners who are making the transition from serving their time and becoming, again, productive members of the society.

TOYAMA: I don't have any specifics anecdotes to address the situation. But in our female institutions, we have programs like our get on the bus program where we offer our services free of charge to inmates' families to bus them from their local communities to the female institutions at least twice a year to be reunited with their mothers and we've seen a huge success in this these programs, and all of the faces both by the incarcerated mothers and the families tell us that this is what we're doing is right.

CAVANAUGH: I know that there's no direct correlation between the alternative custody program and the orders by the federal receiver and the federal courts to reduce the prison population. But do you think that it might dove-tail with these orders to actually will reduce the number of people in California's prisons?

TOYAMA: We do expect to see our female inmate population drop, yes. ?

CAVANAUGH: Okay. So once the nonviolent female offenders are released back to San Diego or their other home communities, who's responsible for supervising the women during the remainder of their sentences?

TOYAMA: In this program, they'll be electronically monitored and be assigned to a patrol agent with CDCR in the field.

CAVANAUGH: And do we have enough parole officers to accommodate extra prisoners?

TOYAMA: Yes, we do, this has been a part of our operationalization of this program is to insure that all assigned to this program are assigned a parole agent.

CAVANAUGH: Have you anticipated any problems or challenges that there may be with the implementation of this program?

TOYAMA: With any new program, there is bound to be bumps in the road. We're really confident in this system, and confident in its message. And positivity and benefits to incarcerated markets and their families.

CAVANAUGH: How closely have you been working with local authorities on this?

TOYAMA: Well, our notification requirements require us to notify local law enforcement at least 30 days ahead of time before we send an inmate out back into the community. But this is a CDCR program. Counties will not have any responsibility to super vise these inmates or provide any services.

CAVANAUGH: I see. How does somebody reoffend? What would get somebody sent back from this alternative custody program?

TOYAMA: Not fulfilling the requirements to participate in a rehabilitative service or for any reason. They commit a new crime, a report by their family that they're not going to rehabilitative services. For any reason. They're still under CDCR control, they're still an inmate and can be revoked back to state prison at any time.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Dana, you know so much about this. I wonder how you're going to be assessing the success of this program.

TOYAMA: Well, hopefully, we see this long-term. Hopefully, we see a reduced impact on inner generational incarceration, and we don't seize these mothers and their families in our system.

CAVANAUGH: So to break that cycle.

TOYAMA: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I do appreciate it. I've been speaking with Dana Toyama, with California department of corrections and rehabilitation. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

TOYAMA: Thank you, Maureen.

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