In recent years, the Diocesan Office of Restorative Justice has been extending its outreach to include the families of murder victims, the incarcerated, and the families of the incarcerated. This year, the Office is again expanding its ministry to include outreach to men and women who are being released from prison.
In addition to leaving the structured prison environment and instantly becoming responsible for making all of one’s own decisions, the system can be overwhelming upon release -- having to visit a parole officer, search for a job, submit to random drug testing, do community service, report to counseling, and try to make all these appointments on time.
California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the United States. A 2012 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation states that just over 65% of those released from the prison system return within three years. This number has not changed significantly over the years. The report also sheds light on some factors that affect recidivism including the fact that 73% committed a new crime or violated parole within the first year of their release from prison.
With the goal of helping to reduce the recidivism rate, the new BRIDGES Mentoring Program is about helping newly released prisoners integrate back into the community and become productive members of their families, communities, and society. Initially, BRIDGES will focus on two prisons – California Rehabilitation Center, Norco (CRC) and California Institute for Women, Corona (CIW). It is an 18 month program that begins six months prior to the inmate’s release.
For many of ex-offenders, their families have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, so the person coming out of prison cannot – and in fact should not – rely on them for help. This makes the role of a mentor even more important. Mentors can help an ex-offender get through this tough initial period.
In collaboration the Catholic Chaplains in each of these prisons, offenders will have an opportunity to apply to become mentees. To be accepted in the program, perspective mentees will be carefully screened and selected. As an indication that the person really wants to change, the person must also have taken advantage of therapeutic help programs offered in prison. The BRIDGES Program Coordinator will then meet with them and help him create a set of short term goals – finding a place to live, obtaining clothes, getting a job, praying and staying close to God, working on relationships with family, keeping away from old friends and old habits, staying clean and sober.
Upon release, the mentee will be paired with a team of two mentors. The mentors will meet with the mentee about once a week for a year to encourage, give guidance, and help him/her reach the goals set prior to release.