Sacramento County’s Adult Day Reporting Center Offers Hope for Change
“Before now, I didn’t think that I’d amount to nothing or do anything. But as you can see…” Bailey Nelson said as he waved his graduation certificate above his head. Robert grew to adulthood lacking the mental acumen to see how a sketchy situation might deteriorate into something he would regret being a part. “Now before things arise, I stop and say to myself, ‘How is this going to move my life forward?’ I use these skills every day.” Robert is one of a dozen men gathered in a classroom at the Sacramento County Probation Department’s Adult Day Reporting Center, where probationers are required to participate in life skills classes to fulfill their sentences. The Thinking for a Change class uses role playing to reinforce techniques to cope with anger management, impulse control and other exercises of mind over emotions.
“I want to say thank you to everyone, especially my Probation Officer. I thank those people right there because they love me the most and are the reason I’m here.” Ronald Young, pointing to his family at a recent graduation ceremony “I was at my parents’ house the other day and I left pretty suddenly,” said Ricky, another student in the class.
“I decided it was time to leave to separate myself from a bad environment.” The other dozen or so men in the class nod as if they, too, understand that family dynamics often lay the groundwork for their own anti-social behaviors. Sacramento County’s three day reporting centers are a product of California’s 2011 Public Safety Realignment. Instead of prison, non-serious offenders, most with addiction problems, are sent to jail, where in some counties they are offered treatment. Probation officers usually aren’t looking to revoke offenders for minor infractions, but instead are more often cast in the role of social workers who try to find ways for offenders to succeed after incarceration. In Sacramento County, probationers deemed to be at high risk of reoffending by the Level of Service Case Management Inventory (LS/CMI) assessment are enrolled in programs offered jointly by the Probation Department and a community based provider to help change their thinking and hence, their behavior.
They must show up four days a week initially to learn the value of routine and punctuality, even if no class is scheduled. “Six months ago I didn’t have anything in my life but BS. She put me in rehab. I worked the program, and now I work 60 hours a week.” Tristan Mook. Some of the classes offered include Thinking for a Change, Seeking Safety, Relapse/Recovery, Anger Management and Helping Women Recover. Students are motivated with an incentive-level progression, and take pride in seeing their names on a bulletin board when they reach the next step. “I came here after my sixth prison term and an even longer meth addiction. I didn’t miss a class. I want to thank my daughter because she believed in me. I learned to think of others’ feelings before I act. There is change in all of us and we are the change,” said a woman named Carol who attends the ADRC. Offenders must graduate successfully to leave probation supervision. Early statistics kept by the probation department show that 88 percent of Reporting Center participants have no new criminal convictions in the first year. “We let them know they will be successful,” said Julie Wherry, Probation Division Chief. Sacramento County Probation Officers make pre-release visits to Northern California prisons to ease the transition into the centers. Upon release the offender meets with an intake officer, registered nurse and an eligibility specialist for services such as Medi-Cal, veterans’ benefits and other assistance programs, and receives an assessment from mental health evaluators. The instruction providers ––Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA) and Strategies for Change — alerts probation officers when offenders fail to attend classes. Probation officers spend time in the field checking in on students, who also must participate in at least two days of community service. Recent work includes removing weeds and debris from Sacramento’s many overgrown alleyways.
Those who stay clean and complete classes can enter the Northern California Construction Training Program, which often leads to well-paying jobs. “I hope in the future the judges will think about this program before putting people in custody.” Sandra Sheaves. All of the hard work culminates in a graduation ceremony, the first in which many of them have participated. The ADRC has graduated nearly 400 probationers from its programs over the past three years. On May 22, 2014 about 65 clients receive certificates in the most recent ceremony; many of them taking time to tell the audience how the program has changed their lives, and how the compassion displayed by their probation officers and program instructors made them want to succeed. “This program is sneaky. It will sneak up on you and turn you into somebody without you ever noticing it. It will change you for the better. There’s nobody up here who’s the same person they used to be, and I’m really glad I’m a part of it,” said graduate Cornell Williams upon receiving his diploma. In his keynote speech Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown said that the public no longer wants to lock people up and throw away the key, but it’s up to them to be the change. “It’s up to you to be the other story. It’s up to you to show the community that their trust was not misplaced,” Brown said.