After release, L.A. County jail inmates now have a place to go for help

Christina Villacorte (Los Angeles Daily News) | May 22, 2014

For the first time, jail inmates who have served their time can walk out of their cells and go straight into a one-stop shop for finding a place to live, staying sober and getting a job.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Thursday opened the first-ever Community Reentry and Resource Center at its jail complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“One of the challenges for newly released inmates is avoiding a return to drug use and crime,” Sheriff John Scott said during the grand opening ceremony. “It can be a difficult road — their families may not accept them, finding a job may be difficult, and old friends may be eager to support bad habits — and that often contributes to an offender’s return to criminal behavior and, ultimately, to jail.”

Scott said the CRRC, located at the lobby of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street from Men’s Central Jail, would give newly released inmates a “better chance for a successful transition.”

“This is designed to give hope to people,” added Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

The CRRC will be staffed by sheriff’s deputies, probation officers, as well as social workers and health professionals who can refer newly released inmates to mental health counseling and medication, drug rehab, financial assistance, food benefits and employment services within their communities.

Several nonprofit organizations, including healthRIGHT 360 and Volunteers of America, will also operate at the CRRC, providing connections to temporary shelters or transitional housing, transportation, tattoo removal, family reintegration and other “wraparound” services.

“The CRRC is an unprecedented approach and opportunity that displays the belief that people’s lives can be salvaged no matter how they have been affected by poverty, lack of education, mental health and substance abuse-related crime,” said healthRIGHT 360 Vice President Demetrius Andreas.

John Gutierrez, a healthRIGHT 360 case manager, said men and women who have just regained their freedom are at heightened risk of falling back on the same behaviors that got them in jail in the first place.

Often, he said of the moments after release, inmates simply ”walk underneath the tunnel (adjacent to the jails), go down the street to the liquor store and start all over again.”

Gutierrez acknowledged he was speaking from experience, having himself spent time behind bars for various crimes, including an attempted murder in his youth. He was able to turn his life around about 10 years ago, thanks to reentry programs similar to those he now helps other inmates secure.

“I do this because I was once one of them,” he said, adding reentry services are “essential, if they want to even have the possibility of a chance.”

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