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Prison system looking to reinvest in rehabilitation

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When the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation decided it was time to start beefing up rehabilitation programs behind bars, the agency sent administrators to L.A. That's because half of state prisoners come from Los Angeles and its surrounding counties. 

"Our goal is to give them the skills so they think differently, behave differently, so when they go back to Los Angeles County, or any of the surrounding areas where they came from, they'll lead more constructive lives and the recidivism rate will be reduced," said CDCR Spokesman Bill Sessa. 

The department plans on taking proposals in the next year or so, and with that in mind, met with local providers in L.A. on Thursday. They'll also be in Oakland next week. The move reflects a shift in direction for the department, where rehabilitation programs have been cut significantly for the past few years. This year, by contrast, they've been given $190 million to go towards starting new programs. Sessa explained the opportunity for change arose from prison realigment, shifting lower level offenders to county supervision. Realignment, started in fall of 2011, has helped the system reduce the population by about 30,000 inmates so far.

Realignment remains controversial in many counties that are struggling to acommodate new jail inmates and properly supervise those coming back from prison.

For the state, realignment has meant an end to the churn of parole violators and low-level offenders that have flooded the prison system in recent years. Parole violators particularly generally served short sentences of 90 days or so. Sessa said now that those sent to prison are mostly there only on longer sentences, focusing on their rehabilitation becomes more viable. 

Part of the plan, he said, is contstructing reentry wings in state facilities in high population areas like L.A., where inmates serving their final year or so in prison could transfer while they're readying for release. That, he said, would put them in a better position to continue treatment with local providers once they're out.


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