After completing a seventh prison term Pedro was informed that under new laws in the state of California he would be released to community supervision rather than state parole. This shift in his custody plan was fortuitous on a number of levels. For the first time in his return back to his local community he received immediate support in accessing services to not only re-establish his life but for his family as well. As a father of five children these services proved to be a game-changer.
As part of his supervision requirement Pedro entered into the Re-entry Advocacy Program with Friends Outside and he quickly discovered this was just the resource he needed. He was surprised to find that, “there are people out there who really want to help.”
Friends Outside, a program of the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County that provides volunteer-based mentoring and immediate-needs services for the incarcerated and recently released, helped Pedro begin taking the steps he needed to build stability.
A Friends Outside volunteer re-entry advocate worked with Pedro to devise a list of goals, apply for food stamps, meet his immediate needs for food, clothing and hygiene, connect with a new job and additionally helped he and his wife enroll in Cabrillo College. Pedro came back week after week, checking off each goal and often brought his entire family to his appointments.
Nearly a year later, both he and his wife are full time students, and working part-time to further support their children. Through programming offered at Pajaro Valley Prevention Services he has developed new parenting skills that have helped him to develop tighter bonds with his family.
In his free time between work, family and school, he has been maintaining his love for drawing and he has set the long-term goal to attend an art school in San Francisco.
Pedro represents exactly the kind of success in reducing the recidivism rate that Friends Outside aims for. For more than 30 years Friends Outside has worked closely with jail populations to provide support structures needed for a successful re-entry back into the community.
Leveraging extensive volunteer support, Friends Outside provides individuals facing re-entry with a range of tools, from transportation services and resume building to more intensive case management and counseling. Last year volunteers provided over 5,000 hours of support and more than 1500 jail visits for 2,000 inmates, post release clients or their families.
Clients like Pedro are proving that with the right re-entry support individuals can beat the odds and decrease the high rate of return to prison in California. According to the Pew Research Center, California has the second highest rate of recidivism in the country with 58 percent of the state’s offenders sent back to prison within three years of their release.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of individuals re-committing crime and to reduce the rate of return through comprehensive community re-entry services”, states Friends Outside Program Coordinator Deanna Adams.
In order to achieve this goal, Friends Outside has worked closely in recent years with county officials and fellow community programs to place greater emphasis on rehabilitation and comprehensive services upon release from jail.
“With continued funding and improved partnerships with the criminal justice system, we have been able to ramp up the evidence-based services we provide and are seeing excellent results”, states Adams.
Friends Outside was one of nine community-based non-profits to receive funds from the Federal Second Chance Act Mentoring Grant awarded to the County of Santa Cruz in October 2010. The grant promoted collaboration between government agencies and non-profit service providers to supply extensive reentry services in an effort to reduce recidivism.
With these funds Friends Outside was able to bolster their community re-entry service programming, support clients in finding volunteer opportunities, and to maintain the services offered through WRAP (Warrant Reduction Advocacy Project). WRAP is the first project of its kind in the nation, using volunteer support to locate low risk non-compliant probationers and giving them the opportunity to avert a bench warrant by re-establishing contact with their supervising probation officers. WRAP has successfully averted 455 warrants since its inception saving the county approximately 11,830 days worth of jail beds and nearly 900,000 dollars.
Most recently, Friends Outside was again able to add to their cadre of services through funds allocated by Assembly Bill (AB) 109 and AB 117, historic legislation that attempts to close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of California state prisons. As part of this law, the state continues to incarcerate offenders who commit serious, violent or sexual crimes, while counties supervise, rehabilitate and manage low-level offenders in an effort to save taxpayer dollars and drastically reduce the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons.
In the past year of providing new programming through AB 109 funds, Friends Outside staff have seen numerous beneficial outcomes.
“We’ve seen a 60% reduction in clients returning to jail within the first six months after release. Additionally, we have been able to build stronger bonds with our clients. Nearly 80% are returning to check-in and reconnect well after they have been released from our after-care services and have established themselves in the community”, states Adams.
“From jail intake to post-release- maintaining the continuum of services has been crucial and extremely effective. We are proud of our program accomplishments and of the dedication put forth by clients to make positive life changes despite significant obstacles,” continues Adams.
In recent years Friends Outside has heightened their program efforts to generate more community awareness of the stories and struggles of incarceration through public events such as client recognition ceremonies, public workshops, and a multi-media art exhibit.
“I am compelled by the individual stories of our clients. Each is unique, and there are no simple solutions, but there are concrete steps that can be taken to address such varied needs. Increasing community safety means generating greater awareness about these steps, ” states Friends Outside Volunteer Savannah Sandusky.
“It is our hope to put a human face to incarceration through the sharing of art. In our own communications with clients, we’ve found art to be an excellent medium for breaking down barriers of understanding,” states Adams.
Over the years many clients and family members have shared their artwork with Friends Outside volunteers. The initial idea for an art exhibit came from volunteers who were particularly compelled by the artwork they were seeing from clients.
“For some clients art serves as means to escape from the harsh realities they are facing and for others it is an opportunity to communicate and connect with family members where words can’t suffice. Many of the art pieces in our exhibit were given as gifts to their loved ones, accompanied by letters of affection written to the family members, especially touching are the letters written to children,” states Adams.
Pedro will among the artists to have work on display and he looks forward to sharing, what has been up until now, a very private experience for him.
“I use artwork as an escape. It is a very calming experience that allows me to showcase my love for my wife and children”, states Pedro.
The public is invited to the opening reception for the “Drawing Us Together” Art Exhibit at the Santa Cruz County Building on Dec 6th from 5-8PM as part of the First Friday Art Walk sponsored by the Arts Council.
Attendees will have the opportunity to view art displays created by current or former inmates, meet the artists, talk with experts working within the social justice system, and learn about social change organizations dedicated to breaking the cycle of incarceration.
“We hope this event will spark dialogue about how the community can the support efforts already in place to reduce recidivism and generate new solutions as well”, states Adams.
For more information about the event contact Friends Outside at 831-427-5078 or visit www.scvolunteercenter.org