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Recent Changes in Corrections and Reentry: Thoughts from Two Leaders in the Field

Terri McDonald, chief probation officer, Los Angeles County Probation Department; John Wetzel, secretary of corrections, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

What changes are you seeing in corrections and reentry?
Terri McDonald, chief probation officer, Los Angeles County Probation Department and John Wetzel, secretary of corrections, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections talk about recent changes in corrections and reentry. Wetzel elaborates on what the Pennsylvania DOC is facilitating with housing and how it individualizes its reentry programs. McDonald remarks on Los Angeles County’s systems approach to reentry and the idea of treating the whole person. 

TERRI MCDONALD: The last probably five or six years, you’re seeing a real trend towards moving away from incarceration towards decarceration. Across America, many systems are taking a look about the decisions they’ve made around sentencing, around lengths of sentences, who goes to prison versus who stays locally. You’re seeing different changes and approaches toward reentry services. It really has been a really significant shift from “Lock ‘em up, keep ‘em quiet” to “How do we program ‘em?” and really looking at who we’re placing in detention facilities, for how long, and then what we’re doing with them while they’re there.

JOHN WETZEL: Part of reentry is just the real basic stuff of housing. We’ve done some creative things with housing. We’ve used both halfway houses, but we’ve also done some housing voucher kind of programs. We’re exploring some creative stuff with 1 master leases, with supportive housing, and those kinds of things. Housing is a key component. Also at the back end, 29 percent of our population has a mental illness, so mental health and having that flow into a mental health program in the community is critical for that group. Seventy-five percent have an addiction 1 plug them in-- I mean ideally we plug them into community infrastructure that can sustain them even when they’re out of the criminal justice system.

TERRI MCDONALD: The county in Los Angeles understands it’s a systems approach towards reentry. The community is the solution. People come to us from the community and from their families and they return to the community and their families; so in Los Angeles County, we understand that and we treat the whole person. So it’s not just probation’s responsibility to deal with reentry in Los Angeles County; our health agencies work with us, whether it’s mental health or substance abuse, Department of Children and Family services, our homeless initiative, our workforce and aging development system. It’s a systems approach to folks, it’s not just a probation responsibility to work on reentry. As a result, in Los Angeles County, what we do is all county department are partners in the reentry services. And until-- until America starts to understand that it takes a village to begin to work on reentry services, systems will continue to struggle because no correctional system can do this alone.

Date Created: August 29, 2019