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Friday, August 15, 2008

Re-entry facility: What is it and Why the Controversy

Those who read the Davis Enterprise might have noticed a joint letter to the editor by Davis' County Supervisors Helen Thomson (District 2-Davis) and Mariko Yamada (District 4-Davis). They were writing in support of the re-entry facility.

The re-entry facility is something that has been in the works for a few months now, but I have not until written about it. I figured after reading the letter that I should do so. But I first, I had questions so I went to fellow County Supervisor Matt Rexroad. Some people wonder why I have an affinity for Mr. Rexroad, but I will tell you why--I spent one hour yesterday on the phone with him, grilling him over the issue. I disagree with Mr. Rexroad far more often than I agree with him. But it was he and not Thomson or Yamada that convinced me that the re-entry facility is the right thing to do.

It is actually a very interesting issue because it cuts across a number of other issues including law enforcement, rehabilitation, and yes even land use. The latter is probably the most controversial part.

I first heard about this issue in early March. At that time, I was told that Yolo County had absolutely zero chance of getting a re-entry facility. However, the Board of Supervisors were also told by checking the box, they were eligible for $30 million to help fund an expansion of the county jail. The expansion of the county jail was going to happen anyway at the cost of $42 million, by getting state funding, Yolo County has received nearly 60 percent of that funding.

As Thomson and Yamada wrote:
"The county jail has been at capacity for seven years with 3,200 inmates annually released early due to lack of space."
So there is a clear need for the upgrade, but with the state and county hurting for money, getting state funding makes this project possible.

Again, at the time, there was zero chance that Yolo County would get a re-entry facility, so it was basically free money.

However things changed rather quickly and in May not only did Yolo County receive the $30 million, but they received notice that the state would be building a re-entry facility--built and operated by the state and funded by the state. Again--no cost to Yolo County.

What is a re-entry facility?

As it was described to me, instead of inmates being released back into the population immediately, the re-entry facility spends a year preparing them in their home county for re-entry into the public. They are given training and rehabilitation programs that enable them to transition back into their community.

As Thomson and Yamada write:
"Intensive treatment and rehabilitation programs in re-entry facilities are designed to allow a transition period to connect inmates to community services and support systems, provide evidence-based treatment, treatment of substance abuse and mental illness, and to develop a plan for a crime-free life upon release."
This is not a half-way house.

The inmates are not released at night to go back into the community. They are housed on the location for the entire period. However, unlike the prisons, they are back close to their family. So the family can visit them more frequently and start getting back into their lives. All of this is aimed at trying to help them reestablish their social networks and prevent recidivism.

Remember these are people who were going to be released back into the population anyway. Would you prefer them go through programs such as these that might give them a chance at a normal life or would you prefer them to go back to the population.

As Thomson and Yamada write:
"Currently, inmates in state prison are required by law to be released back into the community in which they lived prior to their incarceration. They are given $200 cash, a bus ticket and a 'good luck,' with little prospect of success. Today they are being released without treatment or survival skills, and 70 percent of them ultimately return to state prison. Yolo County parolees return to Yolo County.

Research shows that offenders are more likely to be successful on parole, and less likely to return to prison, when they receive intensive programming focused on their needs. Re-entry facilities are a new paradigm in California corrections, with a strong program focus on rehabilitation."
From my standpoint these are solid goals. The people who will be housed at this facility will be either from Yolo County or Solano County. It seems likely there will be some kind of partnership between the two counties.

So why the controversy?

It basically comes down to fears by communities that building such a facility would reduce property values and then land use issues.

The facility will be consistent with commercial zoned property. Now Rexroad believes that it would be best to be placed in an existing city, that means Davis, West Sacramento, or Woodland. However, Woodland has already said basically "hell no." You can imagine the response in Davis. One suggestion was the Covell Village site--I can only imagine the response to that one. And they do not think West Sacramento is the best location. Regardless of what the Board of Supervisors think, under AB 900, which is the authorizing and funding law, cities have veto power. So do not worry, Davis will not have a re-entry facility. Even the council majority is not foolish enough to try to push that one through.

Right now then, the county is looking perhaps at Dunnigan and Zamora which is unincorporated and thus under county control. The residents there are up in arms.

In July, there was a meeting in Zamora on the Re-entry facility. The Zamora Community Hall was packed with over 200 people. Complaints range from water and transportation issues--valid issues that the county will have to address. On the other hand, there were accusations of secret meetings and Brown Act violations that are not accurate.

As Rexroad pointed out at the time, the same people making accusations that this is a done deal, completed in secret, are outraged because the Board of Supervisors did not have answers to all their questions about details that will have to be addressed and worked out later.

What is ironic is that they have no problem with proposals to turn the area into a 25,000 person city, but when the re-entry facility with 300 good and well-paying jobs is proposed, people fear their property values when there is little evidence that it will have any impact on them. In fact, it might help their property values because it brings jobs to the area. These are good paying correctional jobs.

The advantage of Zamora and Dunnigan is that it is accessible to both Yolo County and Solano County. It is right on the junction of I-505 and I-5. That makes it an easy drive from Vacaville and Fairfield and not bad for Woodland, West Sacramento or Davis.

Despite protests to the contrary, the County has not made the final decision on where to locate the facility just yet. If the meetings in Zamora were any indication, it is going to be difficult to please any community. That issue aside this seems like a solid and well-intentioned initiative.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting