Pubdate: Sat, 17 Oct 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: Front Page, continued on page A11
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Michael Rothfeld, Reporting from Sacramento
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Treatment)

The California Fix


State Eliminates 40% of Funding for Rehab Programs Aimed at Helping 
Prisoners Succeed After Release.

Gina Tatum spends her days in a compound surrounded by electrified 
fence in the sun-baked heart of the Central Valley, hoping to change her life.

She will soon turn 50, and after two decades in and out of prison, 
she says she is tired of victimizing others, tired of stealing, tired 
of doing drugs.

"I can't afford any more years up here -- I've lost too many," said 
Tatum, who is serving a four-year stint for forgery at the Valley 
State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. "I'm trying to learn things to 
change my thinking, change everything about me, so I can go home. 
It's so easy to get caught up here and never leave. I don't want to 
die in prison."

But because of cuts in the state budget, Tatum and thousands of other 
inmates and parolees in California are about to lose access to many 
of the programs the prison system has offered to help them turn their 
lives around.

Officials plan to chop $250 million a year from rehabilitation 
services, more than 40% of what the state now devotes to them and a 
quarter of the $1 billion it is slicing from its prison system.

The cuts occur four years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded 
lawmakers to change the name of the Youth and Adult Correctional 
Agency to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"We don't want to just put the name on it," he said in 2007, 
proposing to expand rehabilitation services for prisoners. "We have 
to heal them. We have to get them ready to go out so they can get a 
job, connect with society and never commit a crime again."

Federal Pressure

The rehabilitation services are being slashed at the moment when they 
may be most needed: The state is under pressure from federal courts 
to reduce overcrowding driven by the high rate at which inmates 
return to prison after they are released.

Substance-abuse treatment, vocational training and educational 
programs, all scheduled to be cut back, were designed to give 
offenders skills to help them hold jobs and make other changes. They 
are taught to handle anger, build self-esteem and search for the 
roots of their decisions to commit crimes, the better to avoid repeating them.

At eight prisons, substance-abuse programs will close; scaled-down 
versions will remain at only 12 of the state's 33 lockups and one of 
its privately run prisons. Up to 900 instructors and staff, many of 
whom provide academic and vocational education, could be laid off. 
Arts programs will no longer be available.

State officials say they will attempt to use their reduced resources 
more efficiently, by cycling inmates through programs for shorter periods.

"We're very much targeting the resources on those who most need it," 
said Elizabeth Siggins, who is in charge of rehabilitation for the 
state prison system.

But advocates for rehabilitation and program providers contend that 
the cuts mean a return to an old way of thinking, in which prisons 
were intended to punish but not improve those society sends there. 
And they say the changes could have an effect on safety in California 
streets and within its prisons.

Kathy Jett, formerly Schwarzenegger's top aide for prisoner 
rehabilitation, said gangs may attempt to fill the void created by 
the absence of programs.

"I think you'll start to see a shift back to lots of violence," she 
said. "These are pretty draconian, pretty severe cuts. . . . The 
wardens really are not going to have many tools to manage those inmates."

The changes could also subvert the state's recent moves to lower 
incarceration costs and ease crowding.

The governor and state lawmakers last month agreed to reduce 
supervision of parolees so fewer would be returned to prison for 
failing drug tests and other low-level violations. At the same time, 
the state is eliminating 45% of the seats in its substance-abuse 
programs for parolees, which experts say increases the likelihood 
that they will commit new crimes and go back to prison anyway.

And the state may undermine another recently enacted measure that 
gives inmates more time off their sentences for participating in such 
programs: Prisoners cannot earn the credit without access to the programs.

At Valley State, two nonprofit groups hired by the state provide 
rehabilitation to 756 women four hours a day, five days a week. The 
state has canceled a contract with one of the groups, Phoenix House, 
as of this month and will end a contract with Walden House as early 
as December. After that, officials plan to award a new contract for 
only 175 women to receive services.

At Walden House's program one recent day, about 125 women arrived at 
a building that resembles a small civic center. They sat quietly for 
"accountability time," arms folded, feet tapping, while attendance 
was checked. When the session began, women stepped to the center to 
perform a previously assigned task intended to teach responsibility.

One read a poem. Another recounted the day's news from television 
reports. A third offered inspirational proverbs. The women sang a 
boisterous "Happy Birthday to you -- Woooo" for one inmate.

The goal, counselors said, is to get inmates, some of whom are 
required to attend against their will, to connect with others and 
learn trust. The program is for women who have used drugs or 
committed drug-related crimes, but the curriculum extends beyond 
controlling addiction to maintaining relationships, parenting and 
anger management.

"We ask them, 'Why are you here? What has happened in your life that 
brought you to prison?' " said Charmaine Hoggatt, a program director 
for Walden House.

"We get them to try to be honest about some of the choices they made. 
That's when the tears start to come, the confusion starts to come, 
and the guilt and the shame."

Mary Rubio, in the 23rd year of a life term for a crime she would not 
discuss, completed the program in 2005 and is a paid mentor to others.

"This program saved my life," said Rubio, 54. In "the jungle" of the 
prison dorms and yards, she said, she never could have reflected on 
her life, on how self-destructive she had been. In prison, "it's, you 
know, eat or be eaten," Rubio said. "So when I came into this 
program, it gave me a safe place . . . to look at my behaviors and 
the reason for them."

Not all inmates engage. Informed about the cutbacks, some applauded, 
Hoggatt said. As several women sat talking about the coming changes, 
they said that though they had initially resisted participating in 
the program, encouragement from fellow inmates and counselors helped 
them believe that they could make the future better than the past.

Tatum, shedding tears and brushing back hair streaked with gray, 
called the program "one of the best things I've ever done in my 
life." It could also be her last chance to save herself, she said, 
because with two strikes on her record, even a fight after her 
release could land her back in prison for the rest of her life.

'Let Us Stay'

"I know you help some people even though they don't want to be 
helped," Tatum told Hoggatt. "Those of us who want to be here, let us stay."

Tatum won't be eligible, because the state plans to put inmates in 
that rehabilitation program for only the three months immediately 
before their release dates, rather than the current three-year 
maximum. She is not scheduled to get out until the end of 2011.

Siggins said the inmates chosen for such services will be those 
deemed to be most in need or at the highest risk to offend again.

Similarly, the state will give preference in education programs to 
those who can most benefit, Siggins said.

With fewer teachers, the most classroom time will go to prisoners 
with lower reading levels, while those at higher levels or who are 
preparing for graduate equivalency tests will have more individual 

But David Beck-Brown, an artist and former instructor who left his 
job at a San Diego prison earlier this year, said that with little to 
do, prisoners grow restless.

"We have to have programs," he said. "We have to treat inmates with 
dignity. All that is going under now." 
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