2016-08-05 / Health & Wellness

One-stop center offers hope to probationers

Sobriety tests part of program
By Hector Gonzalez

REHABILITATION—The newly opened Adult Reporting and Resource Center in Ventura is intended to help those on probation get a fresh start in life. Operated by a private firm in a 5,500-square-foot building, it has offices where probationers will receive one-on-one counseling and even a linen room that stocks clothing appropriate for job interviews, as well as a dressing room to try them on. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers REHABILITATION—The newly opened Adult Reporting and Resource Center in Ventura is intended to help those on probation get a fresh start in life. Operated by a private firm in a 5,500-square-foot building, it has offices where probationers will receive one-on-one counseling and even a linen room that stocks clothing appropriate for job interviews, as well as a dressing room to try them on. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Before they’ll be able to access job, counseling and other services at Ventura County’s first one-stop center for former inmates, probationers will have to show they’re sober.

A Breathalyzer test will be their first stop when people on probation check in at the new Adult Reporting and Resource Center in Ventura, where the goal is two-fold: changing criminal habits and offering hope.

The sobriety checks, probation agency officials said, are a big part of ensuring those on probation are making the healthy choices needed to turn their lives around. The program also requires some of those on probation to take random drug tests.


READY TO GO—Ventura County Supervisor John C. Zaragoza, left, and Ventura County Chief Probation Officer Mark Varela shake hands before the Aug. 1 ribbon cutting for the Adult Reporting and Resource Center in Ventura. 
BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers READY TO GO—Ventura County Supervisor John C. Zaragoza, left, and Ventura County Chief Probation Officer Mark Varela shake hands before the Aug. 1 ribbon cutting for the Adult Reporting and Resource Center in Ventura. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Operated by a private firm in a 5,500-square-foot building the county is leasing for $1.25 a square foot, the center has a computer room, a large room for family events and a smaller room for support group meetings.

It also has offices where probationers will receive one-on-one counseling and even a linen room that stocks clothing appropriate for job interviews, as well as a dressing room to try them on.

“The great thing about this center is that everything is under one roof,” county CEO Mike Powers said Monday as officials held a ribbon-cutting for the new facility. “We’ve had these services before, but they were scattered at different locations around the county. This center brings everything together in one place.”

Up to 75 inmates will be referred to the new center, which replaces the work furlough program that the county ran for 40 years at a low-security jail facility at the Camarillo Airport.

That facility was built to house up to 235 inmates who were transitioning from jail to civilian life, “but state and local sentencing practices over the last 15 years have reduced our average population to less than 80 inmates,” Mark Varela, Ventura County’s chief probation officer, said in June.

He said the county will close the furlough program in September and shift funding for the program to the new reporting and resource center, a more cost-effective way of monitoring probationers and providing them with services aimed at cutting recidivism.

Getting a job is an important part of the new center’s strategy to keep people from returning to jail, so probationers will receive an hour and a half of employment counseling per week, including help building their resumes, mock job interviews and referrals to employees that hire ex-inmates.

Sara Woehler of Geo Reentry Services, the private, Floridabased company hired by the county to operate the center, said that helping probationers find jobs is just part of the rehabilitation process.

“It’s a very important piece, but everything has to work together,” she said. “The reason why they are incarcerated and on probation isn’t because they don’t have employment. The majority of the time it’s because of their criminal thinking. Just giving them a job without changing their criminal behavior, you then end up with criminals in the workforce.”

People who commit crimes after doing time in jail or prison are a major problem for law enforcement. About 67 percent of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years, according to a federal Bureau of Justice survey of former inmates between 2005 and 2010.

One critical key to stemming recidivism, said Rachel Kienzler, Geo’s director of development, is changing probationers’ social behavior.

“A lot of these folks make bad choices about who they surround themselves with, and that oftentimes is what increases the likelihood that they’re going to re-arrest,” she said. “So we’ll do social events to show them that, ‘Hey, you can have fun, you can make new friends, you can do all these things without having it be antisocial behavior involving alcohol and drugs.’”

At the new center, Geo’s specialists will help probationers develop a plan that sets out clear goals for changing their behavior, she said.

Ex-inmates also can receive counseling for substance abuse and anger management, attend parenting classes, get group and individual counseling, and receive follow-up monitoring to make sure they don’t recommit crimes.

Using the whole-care approach, Geo said, it’s able to reduce recidivism rates among participating inmates, who can be in the program anywhere from six months to a year or more, depending on their needs and their progress.

Geo operates day reporting centers in 20 counties across California, from Orange to Shasta counties.

About three-quarters of probationers who completed the company’s program did not return to jail, according to Geo’s 2013 in-house analysis of its programs.

“Our model does work,” Kienzler said.

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