Positive changes in America’s criminal justice system are exposing significant changes in helping long-term prisoners adjust to a free society.
“It’s common to come out with untreated illness, chronic conditions due to age and neglect. How are they going to live?” asked Gretchen Newby, executive director of the Stockton-based nonprofit Friends Outside.
Long sentences versus a thaw in the parole process resulted in releases of long-term prisoners with long-term consequences, wrote Joseph Rodriguez and Nell Bernstein in an opinion article in the The New York Times, on April 7.
Following a decades-long prison boom, California’s prison population declined 25 percent in the past 10 years.
Prisoners are now being released under a new parole hearing shift, resulting in what is termed a “cluster effect,” or prisoners being released with a plethora of problems up to and including: housing, jobs and mental impairments.
According to the article, 600,000 men and women are released yearly, with housing and jobs as the main challenges they face. These challenges are compounded by internal obstacles such as post-traumatic stress disorder and histories of abuse and neglect. These early injuries are exacerbated by the violence, humiliation and gripping isolation of prison life.
“It’s a lot of work to unravel the garbage I created,” said Jesse De La Cruz, who spent three decades in and out of prison. Former prisoners, he said are expected to “change everything they’ve done all their lives in three months. It doesn’t work that way.”
David Eng was sentenced to 17 years to life for second-degree murder. Following a 28-year stint, he had some family support outside. He later became a part of a nonprofit, Fathers and Families, to help newly released prisoners acclimate back into society.
Eng had six parole board hearings before being released. He kept a black binder documenting his efforts to gain parole. It contained plastic sleeves with certificates from the American Bible Academy, anger management classes, and workshops on “pro social values,” abstinence contracts, relapse-prevention plans; a high school equivalency diploma, letters of apology, and letters of recommendation and support.
Daniel Silva, 60, spent 39 years in California prisons. Silva was still in prison when he began to develop the curriculum for the Self-Awareness and Recovery program, which runs healing circles in several California prisons.
“You can get a person a job, get them into school, but if they’re not at peace, they’re not going to succeed,” Silva said.
“Tennessee is 17.1 percent Black, but Blacks make up 69 percent of all drug-free school zone offenders…” REASON Magazine, January 2018
The San Joaquin Parole Re-Entry Court is run by Superior Court Judges Richard Vlavianos and Brett H. Morgan. They work with case managers in a downtown Stockton courthouse.
Together they have a three-hour session to offer a safety net of drug treatment, accountability, housing and individual and family counseling.
“You’re trying to develop trust. If they think it’s us against them, we’ll never get anywhere,” explained Vlavianos.
He routinely exchanges handshakes and hugs with persons he works with.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” issued on June 1, is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/50statepie.html