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The Role of Education in Reducing Recidivism

Schools vs. Prison: Officials Discuss Whether the Twain Can Meet


Monday, September 9, 2013

Educators and law enforcement came together on the acropolis of Santa Barbara City College to talk recidivism Thursday afternoon. Convened by SBCC trustee Peter Haslund, a retired political science professor, attendees included Sheriff Bill Brown; chair of the Santa Barbara County Reentry Committee, Rick Roney; instructor of courses for parolees, Noel Gomez; and Dean Marilyn Spaventa.

Motivated by current events – the state is currently considering rival proposals to address a federal order to reduce the prison population – Haslund would like to explore how the educational system can help alleviate a metastasized corrections system. “If we can work together to reduce the rate of recidivism, all of us in California will be better off,” he said.

Spaventa said that about 140 inmates participate in the educational program that City College provides at the County Jail. When visiting recently, she by chance met a student who scored 100 percent on her GED exam. City College also provides a summer program for parolees with the goal of having them enroll in a degree or vocational program. “This summer,” said Gomez, “was the most successful we’ve had.” Out of 25 students, 22 enrolled for fall courses. Marsha Wright, director of the Equal Opportunity Programs Office at SBCC, opined that because the economy is better and jobs more available, academically-inclined students self-selected this year.

After hearing about the some of the positive outcomes, however, Haslund remarked that parolees who seemingly got on the straight and narrow need both an “inner commitment” and the “experience of success.” Roney, who helped kickstart the Day Reporting Center reentry program for parolees, added that they need personal relationships as well. “If you don’t have the relationship, it’s not going to work,” he said.

Vice President of City College, Jack Friedlander, asked why people drop out of such programs. Gomez said that there were several reasons, but substance abuse was a big one. Both he and Sheriff Brown said that relapse is part of recovery. Brown also warned that there must be a balance of approaches to the corrections system. While recidivism rates can be reduced, he said, not everybody is open to becoming a law-abiding citizen. “Some people will continue to offend,” said the Sheriff who has put much effort into raising funds for a North County branch of the Santa Barbara County Jail. On October 9, he will seek permission from the County Supervisors to apply for a grant — which maxes out at $40 million — to add on to that branch.

Replicating some of the services offered by City College at Alan Hancock College, everybody agreed, would also be an easy way to increase educational services, especially because the majority of the jail population is from North County. While Haslund was happy enough to have everybody in the room meet each other, that seemed to be one of the more concrete takeaways.

“If I could dream about a next step,” said SBCC President Lori Gaskin, her institution could provide an “ongoing sustainable model with full-time staff.” As of now, Transitions is funded privately. Friendlander pointed out that the college needs to focus on its core mission. But if Darryl Steinberg’s plan to address recidivism by investing $200 million into prevention and intervention, Friedlander said, funds might become available. If Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to spend even more by contracting out to private prisons, Haslund pointed out, state spending on corrections would outstrip spending on higher education.

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