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San Diego Corrections Officers Say Re-Entry Programs Are Effective

by Charlotte Dean, published

San Diego Corrections Officers Explain Effective Reentry Programs

In 2007, the National Institute of Corrections, partnering with the Urban Institute, initiated a re-entry project called Transition from Jail to Community (TJC). Pilot programs were initiated nationwide under TJC supervision, including in Orange and Fresno Counties.

Santa Barbara and San Diego Counties were subsequently selected as ideal realignment environments to receive "targeted technical assistance" to develop "collaborative strategic planning, continuity of care, evidence-based practices, data-driven decision-making, and self-evaluation."

Five elements of TJC reentry plan from National Institute of Corrections and Urban Institute, with model programs nationwide.

Transition from Jail to Community

The San Diego Community Corrections Partnership has since debuted two significant re-entry projects. East Mesa Detention Facility was a standard jail until August 2012; "Detention" was swapped for "Reentry" and new case planning implemented. Elsewhere in the county, the Community Transition Center escorts Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) inmates to San Diego from prisons statewide.


Captain Billy Duke of the Sheriff's Department commented on East Mesa's transition, emphasizing that after hiring a re-entry manager and program deputies months in advance, the transition was not drastic.

Today, 550 low and medium risk level county inmates have been transferred to EMRF and immediately put through a detailed re-entry orientation and discussion, initiating a recovery dialogue before detention even begins. Like a school with a "college-bound" culture, EMRF detainees are reentry-bound, paired with a professional case manager and granted an opportunity to co-author their own written reentry plan. Simple self-evaluation gives many a stronger relationship with their case managers and a greater stake in program assignments.

Thinking for a Change is one such program.

The NIC began training EMRF staff in cognitive behavioral therapy principles and healthy socialization in October 2012. The 25 structured sessions of role playing and group discussions have granted hundreds greater control and awareness of their thoughts. Captain Duke testified that the exercises, implemented with addiction and work readiness counseling, engage inmates meaningfully, empowering a self-directed recovery. A spring 2014 expansion will increase the class size to 960.


For state prisoners, there is often little assistance getting home or re-assimilating post-release. In January, San Diego opened a purposefully planned re-entry assessment center that returns prisoners to San Diego, performs a "battery" of behavioral, medical, and criminogenic assessments, works with the inmate to develop personalized re-entry plans, and refers them to appropriate programs. It resembles accelerated EMRF programming.

According to 17-year probations veteran and Supervising Officer Karna Lau, the first 6 months of operation saw 769 inmates assessed, of which approximately 95 percent came straight from state prisons. Of those, 12 percent qualified for substance abuse treatment via drug test and history assessment, and almost a quarter required transitional housing.

While an April article implied that cannabis was the primary result, the real picture is more complicated:

  • 41 percent: cannabis,
  • 16 percent: amphetamines,
  • 16 percent: opiates,
  • 24 percent: multiple substances,
  • 3 percent: benzodiazepines.

There was no construction for the CTC, and implementation was "smooth as silk." The facility is co-located at the Lighthouse Residential Drug Treatment program, which won the CTC contract after a lengthy selection. Those requiring detoxification and substance counseling are largely accommodated there, and others are referred to housing and needs-specific work or behavior therapy.

The CTC's critical philosophy involves controlling and directing the statistically critical first 48 hours post-release. CTC actually sends most on to better things within four hours after arrival, although the few who need it can remain for a maximum of seven days. This creativity with case plans allows inmates to form trusting relationships with their case officers and the power to self-evaluate and self-direct.

Most significantly, says Officer Lau, realignment and TJC stimulated in San Diego Corrections an early surge in interdepartmental cooperation and dialogue, which is today bearing fruit. Another year or two must pass until San Diego re-entry, once decried as incarceration-centric, can be advertised as a success, but preliminary testimonies are encouraging.

New outcome measures for the two facilities are in discussion, the CTC will add a video contribution to the "Smart Justice" series next month. San Diego's 6 other county jails do not have therapy re-entry programs.

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