Despite Successes, Prisoner Job Camp May Be Eliminated : Rehabilitation: The head of the program at the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic has been told not to enroll any new inmates after June 11.
An unusual boot-camp-style jail program that has helped a majority of graduates find jobs after their release is threatened by budget cuts planned by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Directors of the 6-month-old program said they hope the County Board of Supervisors will provide the approximately $3.5 million needed to save it from the budget ax when special temporary funding runs out in September. Meanwhile, however, the head of the Regimented Inmate Diversion Program at the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic has been told by superiors not to enroll any new inmates after June 11 in the 90-day regimen of exercise, classes and counseling.
“The basic aim . . . is to awaken them, with a pretty sharp application of military drill and procedure and so forth, to kind of shock them out of their previous way of life,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Hugh McDonald, who heads the program known as RID. “It has been and is very successful and we’re hopeful that the county board will fund it.”
Dawson Oppenheimer, an aide to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said the program would be discussed during this year’s budget deliberations. Antonovich “will search as diligently as he can for revenues to keep this program going, and I can’t believe that the rest of the board, when they see the results achieved so far, won’t also want to continue it if there is any way to do it,” Oppenheimer said.
Although the county operates other boot camps for juveniles, RID is the only such program for adults. McDonald said that 200 to 300 inmates, between the ages of 19 and 29, will pass through the boot camp during its first year and that shutting it down will add to overcrowding at the county’s maximum-security jail facilities.
The program eases crowding by placing prisoners in minimum-security jails and by shortening their terms. By completing the voluntary program, young men whose first offenses were nonviolent crimes such as burglary, drug offenses or drunk driving can be released from jail after a much shorter period than they would otherwise serve.
In addition to getting crewcuts and wearing military-style uniforms, the young men are given basic academic instruction, group counseling and training on how to act on the job. After they are released, probation officers provide one-on-one supervision for 90 days and help them find jobs.
One deputy probation officer who has worked with those coming out of RID said that the small caseloads made him and his colleagues more effective at preventing repeat offenses. Without it, he said, probation officers are so overwhelmed that they have no time to visit any of those whom they are responsible for.
“If we could be funded for another year, there would be no question as to the overall effectiveness of RID,” said the probation officer, who asked not to be named.
The first class of inmates left the program Dec. 24 and four classes have graduated since then. Of the 66 parolees who remain under supervision of the Probation Department, 56% have jobs or have done some work, said program analyst Arvid Peterson.
Jail officials said as few as 25% of those released from the general jail population find work while on probation. “Employment is an important part of the RID program,” Peterson said. “It’s not just a matter of giving them discipline and routine while they are imprisoned. If they are sitting around not constructively occupied, the same thing can occur again.”
One graduate of the program is working for an East Los Angeles roofing materials company that pays him $10 per hour and good health and retirement benefits. He credits the jail stay with turning his life around.
“It shows you how to work, how to control your attitude, how to take responsibility and have respect for others,” said the 19-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous. “The county should keep the program. It helped me and it helped my fellow inmates.”
Another former inmate, a 21-year-old Canyon Country resident whose co-workers do not know that he was released from jail in January, said the physical training and counseling he received while incarcerated helped convince him that he could get off drugs and change his life for the better when he got out.
“I thought I was pretty much headed into jails and drinking and drugs and that kind of stuff,” said the man, who has been employed steadily since his release. “They turned it around and showed me I could do other kinds of things.”