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  • Ginger Rutland /

    Paul Coen is a parolee from Sacramento who is participating in a rehabilitation program for released inmates.

  • Ginger Rutland

Ginger Rutland: A rehab program for ex-cons the county should embrace

Published: Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 12:06 pm

Thirty-two-year-old Paul Coen is married, the father of three young daughters and a former member of the Oak Park Bloods – one of just a handful of whites to ever join that notorious street gang. Coen is also an ex-con.

The Sacramento native was released from prison last May after serving 2 1/2 years for burglary and for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm.

In the year since his release from prison, Coen has earned his GED, obtained a driver's license for the first time in his life and holds a job as assistant chief for a work crew picking up trash and doing landscaping along freeways under contract with the state Department of Transportation. He says he's kicked his meth habit and developed some healthy new goals. He wants to own his own business and buy a home.

Coen credits the Sacramento Community Based Coalition for turning his life around. Run by the Sacramento County Office of Education under contract with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, SCBC provides drug and alcohol treatment, education, job readiness, life skills training and much more to state parolees.

It has an impressive track record. In its first three years of operations only 8.5 percent of parolees enrolled in SCBC returned to prison for a new offense, 104 clients out of 1,221 who signed up. That compares with recidivism rates of 65.1 percent for all parolees statewide.

For those who successfully graduated from the SCBC – a program that can take six months to more than a year to complete, depending on the individual parolee's needs – only 3.6 percent went back to prison for committing new offenses.

The program has been so effective CDCR has renewed and expanded its contract. State prison officials point to SCBC as an example of how other counties should set up their re-entry programs.

Yolo County has contracted with the agency to run its rehabilitation program under the state's new prison realignment program, which shifts low-level parolees to county probation for supervision.

Curiously and sadly, Sacramento County has rejected SCBC's offer to provide services to its probationers.

The program the coalition sponsors is well suited for realigned ex-offenders – the nonviolent, nonserious, low-level criminals targeted under realignment.

Sacramento has chosen to fund its Probation Department's day reporting centers instead. They offer just a handful of services on site, referring probationers to private providers around the county for most services. For disaffected young men and women – many of them destitute and relying on spotty public transportation to get around – day reporting centers don't work.

What are the odds of success when a probationer is ordered to report to a domestic violence prevention program in one corner of the county on a Tuesday and to a mental health appointment every other Wednesday at a different location and then to vocational training at yet another site? Not very good.

SCBC offers services all at one location, near a light-rail stop. A shuttle bus delivers clients to and from light rail to the coalition's campus. At that one location, clients receive drug treatment, GED preparation, computer training, job search help, and tips on résumé writing and domestic violence prevention – in short, all the services they need to get back on their feet.

SCBC also gives clients a crack at a real job. It has a contract with Caltrans to pick up trash and do light landscaping along freeways. Clients learn basic skills most of us would take for granted – how to get to work on time, be part of a team, take orders from the boss and manage their money. Some 700 male and female parolees have been through the litter abatement program, and administrators says 86 percent have completed it successfully.

Understanding that family support is key to success, strengthening those connections is also part of the program. SCBC holds monthly family picnics and other family support assistance. Ex-convict Coen got his GED in the program, as did his wife.

The SCBC is not the only successful re-entry program for ex-offenders, but it's one of the best. If realignment is to work, if California is ever to get a handle on its costly prison population and enhance public safety at the same time, SCBC and programs like it must become the norm.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ginger Rutland, Associate editor

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