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Report Highlights the Impact of a Second Chance

second-chance2Angela’s youthful experimentation with drugs devolved into a 33-year addiction to crack cocaine. To finance her habit, she resorted to forging checks and petty theft. First arrested in 1998, she spent the next 15 years in and out of prison.

By 2013, facing a lengthy prison sentence, she says, “I was tired of drugs, tired of prison and ready to straighten myself out.” Unfortunately, Angela is one of many. The rate of incarceration of women has increased substantially in recent decades and women constitute the fastest-growing segment of people incarcerated in both jails and prisons in the United States

Luckily, Angela was referred to the Second Chance Women’s Reentry Court, an innovative program in Los Angeles that treats the most common underlying causes of women’s nonviolent crimes — drug addiction, mental illness and trauma. This pioneering program depends on the collaboration of the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of
Probation, LA County Superior Court, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR), County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, the Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Control, and Prototypes. The goal is to help women become healthy and self-sufficient, reduce recidivism and provide them the opportunity to reunify with their children.

Since 2007, the Second Chance Women’s Reentry Court (WRC), has provided mental health and substance use disorder treatment along with wraparound services that include housing, employment and family reunification to 333 women who are facing a new prison commitment. Many of these women have cycled in and out prison for most of their lives.

To show the true impact of this program, the Department of Public Health (DPH) conducted an assessment on the impact this program has on the health, safety and well-being of the Los Angeles community.

The Health Impact Assessment found multiple health and public safety benefits which resulted in the recommendation to continue the funding for this program. Some of the major findings* from the report include:

  • Graduates from WRC have a lower chance of rearrests, re-convictions and returns to custody compared to the California state prison population.
  • Compared to their employment status before entering the WRC, graduates experienced more than a 10-fold increase in employment after completing the WRC program and WRC graduates experienced a 54% decrease in homelessness after program completion.
  • Long-term cost savings of 60 women participating in WRC are conservatively estimated to be at least $800,000 per year (for every post-release year of jail avoided).

“After completing the assessment of Second Chance Women’s Re-Entry Court, I’ve recognized how invested all collaborating agencies are in making sure women who are enrolled in this program successfully complete treatment,” shared Deena Pourshaban, MPH, Epidemiology Analyst, Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology at DPH, who co-authored the report. “Diversion programs, utilizing the drug court framework, like WRC, do successfully address underlying issues such as substance use disorder, mental health issues, and trauma. Overall, this holistic approach of diverting women with co-occurring disorders to a rehabilitative treatment facility increases their likelihood of recovery. Our assessment concluded that diversion programs, like WRC, should receive sustainable funding.”

As for Angela, she received individualized treatment, obtained vital vocational skills and learned to set boundaries for herself while in the program. After 11 months, she transitioned to outpatient individual and group counseling at Prototypes’ Pomona Outpatient Behavioral Health Center. Today, Angela is among hundreds of women who have graduated from the program and are now healthy and productive. She has a full-time job, provides loving care for her elderly parents and is grateful to be alive.

To view the full report “Health and Public Safety Impacts of Sustaining a Women’s Jail Diversion Program in Los Angeles County” online, please visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/pa/pa_projects.htm.

*Butler K, Pourshaban D, Health Impact Evaluation Center. Health and Public Safety Impacts of Sustaining a Women’s Jail Diversion Program in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Health Impact Evaluation Center. July 2015.