Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The County of Plenty

County Supervisor Shirakawa:  “Johnny, tell our lucky parolees what they have just won by being released back to the County of Plenty.”

Johnny:  “Each parolee released back to the county will receive a place to live, job training, and if that weren’t enough George, free medication for all!  And now back to you George.”

Sounds like a game show doesn’t it?  But it is not citizens, it is reality and it is no game.  The County of Santa Clara, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News today by staff journalist Tracy Kaplan, has decided that this is the time for a new approach now that the Governor’s early prisoner release program is in full swing.  According to the article, the County of Santa Clara is sending out teams that sound more like welcome wagon hosts to interview the more than 1,000 prisoners that will be released back into the county as mandated by the Governor and the Courts.  Assumedly these teams will be assessing the needs of each individual being released with the possibility of providing everything from housing to job training to even medications if necessary. 

In addition to the new welcome home packages, the county plans on altering how these men even think.  “You have to change the way they think” touts Mr. Shirakawa who is apparently spearheading the effort to transform how the county plans on dealing with these newly arriving parolees.   One has to ask the question, however, of just how the County is going to do that?  Perhaps he will authorize waterboarding or shock treatments?  No, I have it, a CIA tested and approved mind altering drug will be the method of choice. 

Alright, perhaps it is none of that stuff, but the program sounds just as intriguing.  According to Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell, “the county will try alternatives such as cognitive behavioral counseling and residential treatment” and at the moment, she and other county officials are pinning their hopes on contracting with a State Licensed drug treatment program called the ‘Jericho Project’ to deliver some of the services as they put it “to certain individuals”.   The only thing I fear with the Jericho Project is that we will land up with a bunch of strung-out Mel Gibsons running around the county mumbling about conspiracy theories; as if we didn’t have enough nuts running around the countryside already. 

Ok, so how is the county planning on paying for all this?  By spending the 15.1 million dollars in State funds it has received, that’s how; and the County Supervisors has assured all of you that this program is not going to be any cake walk either.  Parolees will be supervised by armed county probation officers who will make sure these guys walk a straight line or fear being “rolled up” as the cons would say.  And although Todd Gillam, vice-president of the Parole Agent Association of California gives the program high marks, I’m guessing that if Ms.Kaplan was to walk across the street to the Sheriff’s Office, she would most likely get a differing opinion.  In fact, most if not all police departments and police chiefs in the state strongly oppose the release of these convicts back into our communities, especially during a time of lay-offs and cutbacks.  And speaking of cutbacks, I’m concerned that already short staffed probation offices all over the State of California (take the Jaycee Dugard case for instance) , will not be able to handle the overload and there will be many who will just fall through the cracks. 

And according to the article, just who are some of these guys that could fall through the cracks?  Take the inmate who was highlighted in the article, Ray Correa.  Mr. Correa has a long history of drug abuse and mental illness, not the least of which includes depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia; or how about Edmundo Ruvalcaba, the 36 year old inmate that was doing time for beating his girlfriend who also has a long history of drug abuse and again, mental illness.  When speaking of his meth addiction, Mr. Rubalcaba says “It’s like that drug takes ahold of you and makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.  You lose your mind, you lose everything…”

What are the chances this new approach will be any different than all the others that have been tried?  According to some of the inmates, they don’t give the new program much hope because of the “enormous amounts of hand-holding, tough love and luck they would have to give us.”  Tough love they say.  What are the authorities going to do when these men don’t go by the rules, take the door off their free room?  And if the statements of Mr. Correa and Mr. Rubalcaba are any indication, I don’t hold out much hope for them either.  Both have said they feel drug treatment and counseling is a waste of time and Mr. Correa even indicated that he may wean himself off his medications before he leaves prison because he won’t be able to afford them even though the county has offered to pay for them once he is out.

Look, all of this sounds wonderful and I truly hope that somehow this works.  I have a loved one myself that has dealt with drug addiction all his life and still struggles with it to this day.  I dealt with these folks both as a police officer and a firefighter for 31 years and it is very sad because many of these individuals have serious mental problems and drug abuse is really just a symptom.  However, there are many that are just criminals who will take this opportunity to further advance their careers by continuing to rob, steal, and abuse drugs.  These guys are  particularly the ones to worry about because when they get high, they become even more dangerous and the likely hood of someone getting killed or seriously hurt in the commission of one of their petty crimes goes up substantially.   And if some of you are thinking that most of these parolees with mental issues are pretty much harmless, I would remind the citizens of San Jose of the tragic day in our city’s history when officers Gene Simpson and Gordon Silva were gunned down by a mental ill man in the intersection of 5th and Santa Clara Streets. 

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