Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton best described the challenge facing counties throughout the state as California prison officials make plans to release an estimated 44,000 non-violent prisoners in fall 2010.
“Faith based organizations, county social services departments and law enforcement officials throughout the state will be treading water when the state prisons release such a large number of prisoners at one time,” Stanton said.
“Instead of throwing us life jackets, it seems the state is throwing us anchors instead.”
An estimated 400 people affiliated with faith based organizations, county social services departments and law enforcement agencies met with members of the State Assembly “Select Committee on Re-Entry” on March 18 to share concerns about prisoners who once released will not be able to rely on state prison services as they transition back into society.
It is projected, by Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE) Executive Director Rev. Samuel Casey that San Bernardino and Riverside Counties will have to shoulder the responsibility of providing services for ten percent (10%) or 4,400 of the prisoners soon to be released.
Services that either doesn’t exist or that are already overburdened, the special challenge being the need to provide health care services.
COPE sponsored to fly Rev. Casey and 12 delegates from the Inland Empire to join similar organization from Los Angeles, San Diego, Alameda, Solano, and Orange counties to tell the Assembly Select, that while faith based organizations are willing to accept the state’s call to help prisoners re-integrate into society, the state will have to do its part in releasing funds to help generate re-entry programs.
“Today (March 18) was a monumental step in seeing that the health care needs of one of the most vulnerable populations in the State of California, and more specifically the Inland Empire Communities, are being met.
This is an important issue for COPE since its congregations represent two California counties that are going to be greatly affected by this issue,” Casey said.
According to Rev. Casey, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties will be the benefactor of large numbers of formally incarcerated persons.
And while faith based organizations throughout the state are beginning to prepare, the work has only begun.
“We need to remain focused, persistent, and most importantly prayerful as we continue to advocate for change. Our next steps are to follow up with our local congregations to insure that they share in today's (March 18) success, encourage our pastor's and leaders to get others engaged in the process, and prepare to follow up with our local elected officials,” Rev. Casey said. “I am excited by the level of commitment and dedication of our leaders who have continued over time to remain engaged in the process of building power that creates change like we saw today.”
COPE and other faith based organizations throughout the state serve as county liaisons at the direction of Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations (RCNO) Training Center CEO Rev. Eugene Williams.
Williams initiated the ‘HIV Health Re-entry Policy” campaign in 2004 after a young woman shared her story that she contracted HIV/AIDS after having sex with a recently released prisoner. The prison system does not release medical records of inmates released into free society. One of the initiative’s main goals is to make those health records public.
“The choice is ours. We can falsely assume that residents returning from prison are not our responsibility. We can act as if our state government has the foresight and the will to protect the long-term health, public safety and well-being of our communities. Some of us might even falsely assume that we can escape the consequences of ignoring the comprehensive needs of the residents returning from prison,” Williams said.
“Or we can roll up our sleeves and work with our counties and cities to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. The financial costs, the public safety costs and the public health costs will show up on our doorsteps anyway. The truth is that no one is coming to save us but us.”
For more information, contact COPE Executive Director Rev. Samuel Casey at (909) 88-7881 x 252, by his cell phone number (909) 717- 3952 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.