With more than 70 percent of former San Diego County inmates returning to the prison system and state regulations forcing budget cuts at correctional facilities, the old theory of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” is no longer rooted in reality.
The LEAD San Diego IMPACT cohort heard from law enforcement officials from different agencies – including San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and Joseph Jones from the U.S. Border Patrol and community partners, such as Second Chance, which provides work readiness training and other supportive services to former inmates –and collaboration was the resounding theme of the day.
San Diego faces some unique geographical challenges when it comes to law enforcement, and collaboration among different agencies – from federal to state to local – is key to maintaining San Diego’s safety record and weathering the funding challenges being felt throughout the state and nation. While jurisdictions are important, San Diego agencies understand that by working together and sharing information they can be more successful – a lesson to which most leaders will attest.
Collaboration with nonprofit community organizations is also essential to ensuring the safety and well-being of all San Diegans. As the county’s detention facilities face an influx of inmates from the state along with dwindling budget, it’s focusing on programs and partners that can help inmates successfully return to their communities and stay there. Whether it’s substance abuse cessation and work training programs during an inmate’s incarceration, or partnering with outside organizations like Second Chance, it takes collaboration from both public and private entities to ensure inmates can successfully transition the “outside” world.
The cohort had the opportunity to see life from an inmate’s perspective firsthand as we toured the George F. Bailey Detention Facility and the East Mesa Detention Facility. Needless to say, the experience was eye-opening – particularly as our role quickly turned from observer to the ones being observed – and one of my fellow participants said it best when she stated, “I’m so thankful that I don’t struggle to stay out of this place.”
Her assessment was spot on. What if I had the same circumstances these individuals grew up with? What if I was born into a drug-addicted home or grew up in a neighborhood where joining a street gang was an unavoidable option? What if that was the only life I knew?
It made me re-evaluate my own personal preconceptions about former inmates and helped me understand that while most of these individuals are there because of poor decisions, many have never known another option.
Hopefully, through continued collaboration among public, private and community leaders, we can raise awareness of these societal challenges that impact our growing inmate population and create programs that help these individuals transition back into society.