WOODLAND — James Horn has spent much of his adult life in and out of prison, a track record he blames on a lack of coping skills and other resources that might otherwise offer him stability.
“I didn’t know how to communicate with people,” said Horn, 52, of Woodland. As a result, he turned to drugs, as well as the company of others who abused them, too.
“I felt like I was accepted, but unfortunately it destroyed my whole life up to this point,” Horn said. “All of these things just caused a huge gap between me and a normal life.”
Today, however, Horn — and others making the challenging transition from incarceration to society — have a helping hand to get their lives back on track.
Earlier this month, dignitaries from throughout the county attended a tour of the Yolo County Day Reporting Center, a program based at the Sheriff’s Department in Woodland that offers both current and former inmates life skills that have been proven to reduce recidivism rates.
Under the guidance of counselors, participants gain access to educational and job-training programs, drug and alcohol treatment, parenting and anger-management skills, among other resources.
“This is a new journey,” Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said of the program, which got underway in January at his department’s Cameron Training Center building adjacent to the main jail. He described the effort as law enforcement working “hand in hand” with the program’s clients as they learn to rebuild their lives.
“I’m a firm believer in showing people how to fish, instead of giving them fishes all their lives,” Prieto said.
Filling a need
The Yolo County Day Reporting Center is modeled after a similar program launched in Sacramento County in 2007. To date, the Sacramento version has served more than 2,600 clients, with just 8.5 of its graduates going on to reoffend.
“It’s a very successful program,” said Tim Herrera, spokesman for the Sacramento County Office of Education, one of the center’s participating agencies. “We have a very low recidivism rate, and we’re hoping to duplicate that here.”
Advocates say it’s a sorely needed resource under AB 109, the California public safety realignment measure enacted in 2011 that calls for offenders of nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual crimes to serve their time in county jails rather than state prison, and for counties to offer services that reduce the state’s high rate of recidivism.
Participants in the Yolo County Day Reporting Center complete the program in four phases, with the average client requiring anywhere from four to eight months to graduate. They must demonstrate good attendance, lack of criminal activity and compliance with their individual service plan in order to progress from one phase to the next.
Currently, the local program has just over 30 clients, about three-fourths of whom are out of custody and transitioning back into their communities.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Tracie Olson, Yolo County public defender, who advocated for such a program while serving on a committee that created Yolo’s AB 109 implementation plan.
“It has tremendous possibility to make a lasting change in our clients’ lives,” Olson said. Some have already asked how to refer their friends to the program, “and that’s always the best type of advertising.”
Another benefit of the center is that all of its programs are offered under one roof, eliminating the confusion and frustration of traveling from place to place to find the resources clients need.
“We bring everything to the client, so we don’t expect them to get from point A to B to C to D,” said Maggi Schubert, a project specialist with the Sacramento County Office of Education who manages the Yolo County program. “If they knew how to do it, they would have done it already.”
About two months have passed since James Horn first walked in the door, having been released from custody over a year and a half ago. Like other clients, he received a service plan crafted to meet his most urgent needs, such as housing and employment assistance, as well as counseling to help him resist the urge to fall back on drugs.
Today, Horn is in the second phase of the program, pursuing his general equivalency degree as he learns job-readiness skills. His ultimate goal is to attend college and become a drug and alcohol counselor, “to help other people find a productive lifestyle.”
His progress has so impressed the center’s staff that he’s been serving as a mentor to some of program’s newer participants.
“He’s been a model client,” Barbara Browning, the transition specialist assigned to Horn’s case, said one afternoon as Horn logged into his newly established email account in the center’s computer lab.
While the challenges that come with easing back into society can be overwhelming, through the program, “they can slow the snowball down, cut it in half or eliminate it altogether,” Browning said.
Horn said he recently achieved a small degree of victory while working out a vehicle registration glitch at the DMV — a potentially trying experience for even the most well-equipped people. While he might have erupted in anger in the past, Horn said he tapped into his coping skills to work the problem through successfully.
“It’s because of the program, and the program’s influence,” Horn said. “When people see us in the program, trying to be positive, they see us in a different light.”
Horn said his goal is to build a stable life and restore his relationship with his 19-year-old daughter. Despite his rocky past, he’s confident he’ll stay sober, productive and out of jail.
“I will, because I have all the help that I need,” he said. “Change is hard, and if you don’t have the right help, it can be an insurmountable situation.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene