California Prisoners Give Back

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System3 Comments

California is leading the way to help offenders re-enter society. Proposition 57 has ushered in an overhaul of the state’s prison parole system in which some inmates can earn credits to shorten their sentences for demonstrating good behavior and completing education programs. It will be possible for inmates to cut off 6 months from their sentences for earning a high school diploma or college degree and up to a month for successfully completing self-help programs like substance abuse support, counseling, parenting, or anger management. Certain prisons also offer “Milestone” credits that can allow a sentence reduction of up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period.

One of the most innovative programs is at San Quentin State Prison where inmates learn to write computer code , even though they are not allowed to use the internet, in hopes of landing a high-paying job after release. The Last Mile, founded by Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, teaches offenders logo design, data visualization and web development skills. Inmates build apps, websites and other software for start-ups including Airbnb.

State spending on prison rehabilitation programs has increased over the last 5 years and correctional officers see a positive outcome. The growing emphasis on helping offenders re-enter society has led to a prison culture shift. Inmates at facilities with the most opportunities are less inclined to break the rules and show a greater interest in completing college applications and learning work skills. A 2016 state report found that the total 3-year recidivism rate for all California felons (the % of those who reoffend 3 years after their release) has dropped to 44.6% from a peak of 67.5% in fiscal 2010.

Inmates report that what starts out as a way for them to go home earlier soon results in something more meaningful. Daniel Hopper, an inmate at Vacaville State Prison who teaches fellow inmates about drug and alcohol abuse, says of the programs: “You are constantly in an environment that has its own culture, a culture of rehabilitation, a culture where guys are constantly asking you to re-examine your thinking. As a result, little by little, you start to crack at the heart.” A largely self-educated man, Hopper became a substance abuse counselor through the Offender Mentor Certification Program and looks forward to working in the community after his release.

3 Comments on “California Prisoners Give Back”

  1. Thanks for this comment, Brendan. It’s terrific that you support an inmate in his desire to continue his education and learn coding. I’m sure your concern about him keeps him going.

  2. Milestone credits have been around for quite some time but the CDCR made it very difficult to qualify and indeed has a history of not honoring them after hard work put in. Things are changing and in a way, the time credited for these incentives is secondary for many inmates to the knowledge gained and highly valued use of time in a vacuum otherwise. I regularly support a dedicated writer, voracious self educator, and legal scholar among other things. He tests at genius levels so you can imagine the emotional and intellectual trauma that he has endured for a political crime. He has changed his mid 2020 discharge date to early 2018 through both legal tenacity in addition to the policy change that these programs represent. That celebrated, he is sometimes more exuberant about the fact that he gets 6 hours of coding and program training daily.

  3. How great to have this positive news about changes that can help turn lives around, a true “culture of rehabilitation.” We all make our mistakes, often because someone has hurt us, leading to degrees of having our hearts hardened, if not fearful, anxious, enraged. To have mentors in the jails and prisons who can help lead the way out is tremendous. Would that our society were more conscientious about helping rather than simply punishing

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