Using ex-inmates to help people who were just released from county jails cuts recidivism

During the first year in the program, about 72% of participants were not re-arrested or incarcerated in jail, as compared to 66% for those who were not participating in the program.

From Press Telegram:

Through use of extensive wraparound services, an intensive Los Angeles County program reduced the number of released inmates who return to incarceration by 17% — results that are almost three times greater than similar programs throughout the state, a new study shows.

An analysis of the county’s Reentry Intensive Case Management Services (RICMS) program aimed at helping released inmates assimilate into society found that during the first year in the program, about 72% of participants were not re-arrested or incarcerated in jail, as compared to 66% for those who were not participating in the program.

The study, conducted by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) released last month, found the county’s program reduced recidivism by 6% as compared to those not in the program. But when MDRC compared the county program in a comparative study looking at 53 other programs, the difference was much higher.

“RICMS program participants had fewer convictions, arrests, incarcerations, and probation revocations than the comparison group. They also had spent fewer days in jail at both the one-year and two-year mark after program enrollment,” the study concluded.

The study used data from April 2018 to March 2021 as well as a survey of staff managers conducted in April 2022 and interviews with program managers, staff and participants from June 2019 to August 2022. In comparison to those who were not in the county program, the study found participants were:

  • More likely to receive services from the L.A .County Department of Mental Health.
  • Less likely to visit an emergency room during the two-year follow-up period.
  • Less likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system.

L.A. County partners with 29 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) who help those being released from county jails and also state prisons to find shelter, jobs. And if necessary they provide food and clothing as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment. Usually, participants are matched up with Community Health Workers, who act as liaisons to county, state and federal services and also provide a listening ear.

Community Health Workers hired by the CBOs are people who’ve been incarcerated and have found a way out of the cycle of arrest, incarceration, release and rearrest. In turn, they help the participants navigate what the report calls “a fragmented” system of county services using their first-hand, “lived experiences.”

“The resources, dignity, and community that reentry services provide are paramount to reducing recidivism rates, setting people up for success, and making our communities safer,” said Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life (ANWOL), one of the nonprofits working with the county’s Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD), which oversees the reentry program.

The group matches their workers with female inmates released from the county’s Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood.

“We employ formerly incarcerated people to help them navigate those systems,” Burton said. “Formerly incarcerated people can gain their trust and they are relatable.”

Using organizations that employ community-based workers is a key to the program’s success, says the report and others.

“The study on RICMS’ impact proves that community-based services improve public safety,” said Vanessa Martin, director of reentry at LA County’s JCOD. “It’s our strong partnerships with community-based organizations. They are what makes the program possible,” she added on Monday, Oct. 23.

For example, Burton’s group will help someone who is often on parole after being released to find her way. “We will help her get ID, enroll in medical services. We’ll help her build a resume and find employment or higher education. And we provide her with food, clothing and make sure she is safe,” Burton said.

Burton’s group, celebrating its 25th anniversary, has 80 available beds across L.A. County, she said. “We don’t just provide shelter. It is a wholistic approach to the full person.”

L.A. County has the biggest jail system in the world, housing 12,000 people every day. When inmates are released, they face not only finding a place to live, but they often need medical and mental health treatment. The lack of affordable housing was “a pervasive issue” to stabilizing a former inmate, according to the report.

The report cites a community worker who tried for more than a year to find housing for a client. When the worker obtained the client a government-backed voucher for reduced rent, things began looking up. Until the landlord required $3,500 to move in. The report quoted the client as saying: “How can I get housing when I can’t get this money? Where do they expect me — who’s been homeless for the last 15 years — to get this money?”

Another issue has been access to clients. The report cited instances of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department restricting access to potential clients in the jails. Nonprofit community workers created workarounds by sending letters or receiving collect phone calls, the report said.

Also, the report found that clients living in service areas with fewer community resources may face “greater barriers to achieving their goals,” since there are fewer options available and often much longer wait lists, especially for housing.