2-1-1 San Diego Help Hotline Adds Resources For Former Inmates
ST. JOHN: So on KPBS Midday Edition today, district attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced a new website this week to help offenders who are leaving state prison and returning to San Diego. It's one more tool in a kit to help offenders find their feet in our society. The pressure is on to find ways to keep the community and keep in the community and stop them from ending up back behind bars. Our guests, Cesar Escuro, are the probation director for the San Diego Probation Department. ESCURO: Good to be here. ST. JOHN: And we also have JJ Anderson, community programs director with the San Diego District Attorney's Office. ANDERSON: Thank you. ST. JOHN: I wanted to start with you, Cesar. This is a good opportunity to match up on how this major shift in law enforcement and realignment is affecting San Diego. The state is handing over prisoners to the county ever since 2011 because courts said that the prisons were way overcrowded. So tell us how many extra offenders are serving their sentences in San Diego County jails instead of state prisons. ESCURO: We have about 2,500 offenders that are now being supervised by the Probation Department. ST. JOHN: So those are the ones that are being supervised out of state prison be and are supervised by the Probation Department. ESCURO: Correct. ST. JOHN: Do you also know how many the sheriff's department is dealing with? ESCURO: That's a different department. I don't want to speak for the sheriff. ST. JOHN: Okey-doke! But that's 2,500 extra in probation, which is one of the reasons you want to keep people back from going behind bars. What is the recidivism rate now in San Diego? ESCURO: The state's rate was historically at 70% which means that an offender coming out of prison would return back to state prison within three years. ST. JOHN: And in San Diego before realignment began, what was the rate then? ESCURO: It's really apples and oranges because we're stalking about probation recidivism versus parole recidivism. And I know probation recidivism at the time was about 30%. ST. JOHN: So would you say that 70% describes what we have in San Diego at this time? ESCURO: At this time, I think it's too early to tell. ST. JOHN: I see. Okay. So JJ, Bonnie Dumanis announced a new tool to help people coming out of prison get their feet on the ground here. ANDERSON: It's the 211 reentry toolkit. This is a long time in the making. Bonnie is kind of a visionary. And we've been working on this for about ten years. ST. JOHN: Wow. ANDERSON: Engaging probationers, seeing what their needs are prior to leaving, and having that prepared for them before they leave. But what we found is that all the providers, they change a lot. Community-based organizations, they leave, so 211 has been good enough to keep that information for us. ST. JOHN: That's the phone number people. ANDERSON: Exactly. The phone number that people call. They keep that information up for us, and they could be called or using the web. So they're better accessible than what we had prior. ST. JOHN: So this new program is putting all this updated information on the web. How many people coming out of prison and back into the community have a home, let alone a computer that they can use to check the website? ANDERSON: You'd be surprised. It's not only -- No. 1, it's not the issue. The family's in crisis too. So a lot of time, a lot of the services are for kids, wives, husbands. So reentry is a family issue, it's not just an inmate issue. But we get calls from -- and they can also write letters to 211. So they're receiving letters from prisoners in jails right now. ST. JOHN: Huh! ANDERSON: And that's what we wanted. We wanted them to be able to start the process as soon as possible, and we wanted it to be accessible to everyone. ST. JOHN: So it's not something that when they get out of prison, they then go and look at this website. It starts earlier than that. ANDERSON: Absolutely. A lot of times loved ones are trying to prepare. So that's going to be much easier for them, and it's going to be a holistic process. ST. JOHN: Are you saying that some of the offenders are writing to the services they're finding on the website to see if there might be some assistance for them when they get out? ANDERSON: Correct. ST. JOHN: Okay. That's good. Now, I did go to the website and have a look at it. I have to say 211 is an amazingly comprehensive resource. But it's quite difficult to find what -- the home page is so full of stuff that you might even not quite know where to go to get the exoffenders' page. But there's a lot of resources. ANDERSON: There's housing, crisis intervention, relationship crisis intervention, mental health, substance abuse, food. Literacy programs. So it's an array of services. And 211, they are professionals. So if there's a resource out there, they know how to find it. They are the people to help you with that. And we've tried to make it as simple as possible for the inmates. ST. JOHN: So this is an evolving tool. Got it. I did go and have a look at the temporary housing section, and there's some really good lists of temporary housing and longer term housing that I think would be useful for anyone, not just an exoffender but somebody trying to help them. ANDERSON: Absolutely. What we tried to do was bring all of those resources into one place to make it as easy as possible for the offender. But yeah, anyone can use the resources that are on that list. ST. JOHN: With the temporary shelters, you go down the list, and it's like waiting list, four months, it's not terribly encouraging. It's not like there are a lot of places for people to find a bed. ANDERSON: And we do have work to do to develop more resources for these people who are coming back. But right now, we have to use what we have, and make it as simple as possible for people. ST. JOHN: Cesar, Matt Jenkins, the chief probation officer has tried to make a one stop shop where people can go physically to find what they need. ESCURO: It's called the need transition center, and it opened in January of 2013. And the District Attorney's Office was key to all of that. Again in San Diego, we work very collaboratively. So that has been up and running, and thus far we have processed about 600 offenders that are coming out of prisons through the community transition center. ST. JOHN: Did the state come up with extra money in order to help the county deal? They promised money. ESCURO: Well, the counties were allocated money, and they have since -- the formulas have changed. But yes, they have promised. And the next big thing is in the future. So we're still waiting for that funding and that funding stream to come as well. ST. JOHN: Okay. Where is the one stop shop? ESCURO: That is in downtown San Diego on the corner of market and 13th. ST. JOHN: Okay. And the website, I don't know whether this is a question you can answer because you're with the District Attorney's Office, right? ANDERSON: Right. ST. JOHN: But one of the premises was that the state would not be sending violent offenders. Since the beginning of this in 2011, it seems like exoffenders have been coming thick and fast. Is it true that the level of violence of these offenders has increased? ANDERSON: Well, the arrest that the offender has had is a nonviolent arrest. There may have been violence in some of these participants' pasts. So it's true that some do have some violence in their past. But their currently arrest is a nonviolent arrest. ST. JOHN: I see. So Cesar, from the Probation Department's perspective, are probation officers having to deal with a more violent population? ESCURO: I wouldn't say more violent. I would say more sophisticated. They are being released from prison. And they may be served a period on probation, but they did go to prison, and some of these guys learned many things in prison. So yes, they are a more sophisticated group. ST. JOHN: Has this changed the Probation Department radically? ESCURO: I wouldn't say radically. But what public safety realignment did is it blew up everything we knew about probation in the criminal justice system. And what we did as a group, the county, we took those pieces that were working, and the pieces that weren't, we threw out. So we are continuing to build a program, if you will, to better serve this population. ST. JOHN: Can you give us some examples of things that were working and things that you had to throw out? ESCURO: Well, part of it is, I think the old -- what we threw out is the old supervision model of just watching them and monitoring them. What we have now is a case plan driven supervision in which assessments are done, and for those being released from prison, they're being assessed at the community transition center. They're being assessed for drug and alcohol, mental health, and that case plan will drive what the probation will do for each individual. Everything is individualized so we can make them more successful in our community. ST. JOHN: Did you hire a lot more probation officers? ESCURO: We did. Part of the plan was to build an entire division to supervise this population. And I'm happy to say that we've hired just about 108 people to supervise this population. ST. JOHN: 108 people. How much has that increased the size of the department? ESCURO: Broadly. We at the time before public safety realignment, we had about 1,300 total staff. And with the addition of the 108, it's gotten bigger. ST. JOHN: Now, crime rates have gone up in San Diego County and a lot of other places too. Is the District Attorney's Office attributing that at all to what's happening with realignment? ANDERSON: We have to wait and see. We're so early into this. But it's hard to say. It really is. And Bonnie always said we're building a plane as we fly it. So it's been a difficult process for us. And we're finally getting our legs under us. And this next year, we should have all our processors together, and we should see our recidivism rates drop. And we'll know what's going on. ST. JOHN: Has the county had to build more county jail space? ANDERSON: The county built a reentry center at the sheriff's department. A 400-bed reentry center. It offers substance abuse, parenting, anger management. The county is a short-term facility. It wasn't designed to hold people for long periods of time. So the sheriff had to build something where he could educate these guys and get them prepared for the community. ST. JOHN: So we have added a facility with 400 beds. ANDERSON: Absolutely. But it's a reentry facility. ST. JOHN: So the focus is completely different. ANDERSON: That's right. ST. JOHN: So the way you're treating the people that come, how has the focus changed? ANDERSON: It's changed absolutely. We use an evidence-based process to make decisions. It's not what we think of a person. It's what the science says about a person. So if there are issues related to substance abuse, we take care of the problem and try to treat that person instead of just putting them somewhere and leaving them there. ST. JOHN: And the state was supposed to get rid of -- to transfer 40,000 people out of the prisons because you're way overcrowded. And they managed to transfer 30,000. Ten thousand more, and they're coming down the pike. The governor is fighting T. What would that do to San Diego? ESCURO: ESCURO: That would have a significant impact on this community. That is 10,000 additional participants or offenders that are going to be coming to our community. San Diego probably expects out of those 10,000 to see about 700 or 800. And what's interesting about this plan, there hasn't been any talk about a funding source to fund these extra, what we will call an early release of these offenders, because as public safety realignment hit, it was actually not a early release. These offenders would have come out anyway but on parole. ST. JOHN: So this is a different kettle of fish. And you're both nodding. So it is of some concern to the Justice Department, and law enforcement in San Diego. The DA and the Probation Department. ESCURO: It is. ST. JOHN: Okay. Well, thank you both for being here. There are definitely some positive aspects of this program. It seems like the attitudes are changing, the focus is changing, but the focus is still pretty great. JJ, thank you so much. ANDERSON: Thank you. ST. JOHN: And Cesar, senior director for the Probation Department. ESCURO: Thank you, Alison.
State prison realignment means more inmates are returning to San Diego County sooner.
Many of them end up back in prison because they lack the resources to make a successful transition.
From helping struggling families with resources for food to veterans in need of support or family members caring for an aging parent and not sure where to turn, the 2-1-1 San Diego hotline helps people get connected to the services they need.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore hopes adding resources for inmates being released back into the community helps lower the recidivism rate.
"Ninety-five percent of these people are coming back to our neighborhoods," he said. "So, let's give them a chance to be successful."
Gore said the training starts inside the jails on how to use the website tools to make for a better transition.
"We're not naive enough to think we're going to turn all these people into perfect citizens but if we just lower that recidivism rate from 70 to 50 percent, we'll keep crime rates down and have safer neighborhoods," Gore said.
The website already provides more than 6,000 connections to community services ranging from health, jobs, housing and disaster services.
"2-1-1 is a free number. It's a simple call but it's more than that," said John Ohanian with 2-1-1 San Diego. "It's a stigma-free environment. It's a confidential service and it's staffed by culturally competent and trained staff."
Find more information about the added re-entry program at www.211sandiego.org.