California is leading the way to help offenders re-enter society. Proposition 57 has ushered in an overhaul of the state’s prison parole system in which some inmates can earn credits to shorten their sentences for demonstrating good behavior and completing education programs. It will be possible for inmates to cut off 6 months from their sentences for earning a high school diploma or college degree and up to a month for successfully completing self-help programs like substance abuse support, counseling, parenting, or anger management. Certain prisons also offer “Milestone” credits that can allow a sentence reduction of up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period.
One of the most innovative programs is at San Quentin State Prison where inmates learn to write computer code , even though they are not allowed to use the internet, in hopes of landing a high-paying job after release. The Last Mile, founded by Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, teaches offenders logo design, data visualization and web development skills. Inmates build apps, websites and other software for start-ups including Airbnb.
State spending on prison rehabilitation programs has increased over the last 5 years and correctional officers see a positive outcome. The growing emphasis on helping offenders re-enter society has led to a prison culture shift. Inmates at facilities with the most opportunities are less inclined to break the rules and show a greater interest in completing college applications and learning work skills. A 2016 state report found that the total 3-year recidivism rate for all California felons (the % of those who reoffend 3 years after their release) has dropped to 44.6% from a peak of 67.5% in fiscal 2010.
Inmates report that what starts out as a way for them to go home earlier soon results in something more meaningful. Daniel Hopper, an inmate at Vacaville State Prison who teaches fellow inmates about drug and alcohol abuse, says of the programs: “You are constantly in an environment that has its own culture, a culture of rehabilitation, a culture where guys are constantly asking you to re-examine your thinking. As a result, little by little, you start to crack at the heart.” A largely self-educated man, Hopper became a substance abuse counselor through the Offender Mentor Certification Program and looks forward to working in the community after his release.