California Attorney General Kamala Harris revisited Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic January 5 Castaic January 5, to present 53 participants of the Back on Track Los Angeles anti-recidivism program with certificates of recognition. The program was launched in March of last year via a $750,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Second Chance Act. An emotional Harris addressed the class during a press conference at the center, where she also thanked all who were involved in the program.
“Let me start by thanking you for proving that it can be done,” Harris told program facilitators and participants.
“This is work that has never been done out of the California Department of Justice. It’s never been done before in the hundreds of years of history of the office. It is because of those who believe in what we can do to reform the criminal justice system in this country. But again, it’s about individuals believing in what can be done.”
According to organizers, Back on Track L.A. is composed of 90 participants— all male non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders— and is housed in L.A. County.
The initiative was designed to provide participants with the critical services needed for a seamless transition from in-custody to out-of-custody life, targeting the time offenders are most likely to recidivate.
The in-custody program consists of four training tracks that include cognitive behavior training, education (academic and career-technical), life skills and re-entry training.
It also provides additional child support services, family services, identification, health services, and tattoo removal. Five Keys Charter School facilitated cognitive behavior instruction for the program and remedial courses for participants who do not have a high school diploma.
College of the Canyons and L.A. Mission College offered college courses to those participants that have already obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent. The credits obtained while in custody can be transferred to any California community college. L.A. Trade Technical College and College of the Canyons also offer skill building and individual certification courses in welding, construction and maintenance.
“I stand before you as the top cop of the biggest state in this country,” Harris said.
“Let me tell you why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because I absolutely know as a career prosecutor, this is how we will keep communities safer. For so long in our country, we have been offered a false choice about what makes for good criminal justice policy. The false choice suggests that either you’re soft on crime or you’re tough on crime, instead of asking are we smart on crime.”
For Harris, being smart on crime is all about focusing on prevention.
“It’s about understanding that in California we have, like many states in this country, a high recidivism rate, meaning known offenders, people who have committed a crime, are very likely to reoffend after they get out… 60 percent in California will reoffend when they get out.
“Well, that’s not smart… a system that is designed with a 60 percent rate of failure is not a smart system. And so, part of what Back on Track L.A. is about, is saying, ‘let’s step back and look at those numbers.’ ‘Let’s figure out how we can change those odds.’”
During the conference, Harris announced that some of the participants had already earned their high school diplomas and had become a part of what she dubbed, the “Role Model Club”.
“We did it knowing it could be a success but there are a lot of people who couldn’t imagine something like this happening.
“So, they’re watching it, [thinking] if it could be a success then we can duplicate it. So, the thing that you should know about this in a way that inspires you, is that your individual success will someday create the opportunity for some man you have never met before in some other part of this country to be able to have this kind of opportunity when they’re in custody…”
Back on Track’s out-of-custody program comprises three main components: employment, housing and continuing education opportunities.
As part of the program, an Employment Advisory Board has been created to assist inmates with job placement post-release. L.A. County Probation Department has partnered with LASD to provide transitional housing for participants for up to 120 days.
Program participants who are unable to complete their high school studies while in-custody have the opportunity to complete their studies at a Five Keys out-of-custody location in Los Angeles County.
Those participants earning college credits who wish to continue their post-secondary education out-of-custody can transfer those credits to any California community college. The L.A. County Probation Department will also provide out-of-custody coaches that will continue to monitor and assist participants for 12 months after their release.