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Families Optimistic as Parolees Move Closer to Home

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'Realignment' law transferring state’s responsibility took effect Saturday

Aailyah Nicole Taylor is a bubbly and articulate five-year-old who speaks in full sentences.

“I can’t wait to see my daddy,” she says holding a photograph adorned with pink sparkles and heart shapes.

“Look, that’s my daddy. He promised to take me to Disneyland for my birthday.”

Aailyah’s father Thomas is one of the thousands of low-level offenders, transferred from state prison facilities to county jails last Saturday, October 1 under a new law aimed at cutting costs to direct money toward other services while reducing state prison populations in line with a federal court order.

While Thomas won’t be taking his daughter to Disneyland anytime soon, his wife Inka and the couple’s three children are optimistic that he will not only be moving closer to home but will hopefully get treatment for his drug addiction along with a menu of counseling programs aimed at helping him go straight.

Thomas is serving the final leg of a five-to-fifteen year sentence at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) located south of Interstate 10, west of Blythe in unincorporated Riverside County for multiple non-violent drug related offenses.

Last week his 11-year-old daughter Sunny wrote in a school paper “of closing her eyes and fading away to a place free of bars.”

“No more driving far away. Just you and me daddy…. No more doors slamming behind us. No glass separating us. When you come home daddy, I won’t just tell you I love you, I’ll show you.”

Inka, a nurse’s aide appears eager to visit Thomas but strains to hide the bitterness.

“Prison destroys families. The notion that parents should be subjected to long prison terms for minor offenses is driven not by justice but by fear mongering bullies claiming to be tough on crime,” she laments.

“Incarcerated parents can’t tuck his children in bed at night. They can’t be there to help them with homework. They can’t comfort them when they scrape their knees on the playground. The damage done is irreparable,” she said.

There are more than 2 million children who have a parent or other close relative in jail or prison according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and 5 million more have parents who have been incarcerated and are on probation or parole.

Experts warn that the emphasis on imprisonment to fight non-violent crime may be helping to create the next generation of criminals.

Case in point - the Taylor’s oldest son Tay, who witnessed his father’s arrest and who was frisked by guards during 2009 and 2010 prison visits, became more contemptuous toward law enforcement. He is awaiting trial for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest during a traffic stop.

Between 5,500 and 6,500 state inmates will pour into San Bernardino County in the next three years, said Michelle Scray, the county's chief probation officer.

The new law AB 109, also known as, "realignment," has sparked a barrage of criticism from law enforcement officials and prison reform advocates.

Though the state has allocated $25 million to San Bernardino County to monitor and provide treatment services to parolees for the current fiscal year, officials are most concerned about funding being cut off in years to come.

Roughly 100 probation officers will be hired in the next few months to help monitor and provide treatment to the parolees, Scray said. Day centers - one-stop shops for parolees to check-in, inquire about jobs and receive counseling and other services - will set up in San Bernardino and at yet-to-be determined sites in the West End and High Desert, she said.

Sheriff Rod Hoops said his department will begin reclassifying the roughly 6,000 inmates at its four jails to determine who will stay put and who will be assigned electronic monitoring or to a work-release program. “There is no room for nonviolent offenders,” he said. "I don't know of anyone sitting in jail right now on a drug offense or a burglary.”

He said expansion of the Adelanto jail would provide an additional 1,300 beds, which will be filled as funding for staffing becomes available.

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said he anticipates at least a 30 percent increase in crime with the increase in parolees.

"I am concerned," Ramos said. Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, president of the California State Association of Counties, called realignment a "massive shift in responsibility."

Provided adequate funding, he said, "We have the potential, I believe, to do much good."

“Californians are being used as guinea pigs,” argues longtime prison reform expert Kim Carter, who is president of the San Bernardino based Time for Change Foundation, an organization providing housing and supportive services to people leaving prisons since 2002.

While public safety is getting new computers, tracking devices, probation officers, we're all sitting ducks. All the taxpayer dollars are invested in the "aftermath," but I'd feel much safer if we had equally invested in prevention and intervention.

Carter is author of the esteemed publication "Invisible Bars: Barriers to Women's Health & Well-Being During and After Incarceration.”

“If local governments try to house these individuals in county jails, the problem has only shifted from the state to the county level. The capacity is just not there to house every single inmate,” Carter wrote in a September 27 blog published in the Huffington Post.

Carter warns of the dire consequences when thousands of folks come back to their communities and find that there are no housing options due to current public housing laws and no opportunities for job or entrepreneurship because the state routinely denies applications based on past felony convictions and the unemployment rate is in the double digits for the nation.

“Can you imagine being denied a barbering and cosmetology license because you made a poor decision and used drugs?

The next generation of kids is highly likely to follow that same path unless we use their parents as models of rehabilitation,” she said.

“Needless to say, the counties are ill prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude.”

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