Coronado resident Tom Morelli, an ordained deacon of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, discussed his work with prisoners in California jails to reduce the likelihood of their return after release. Morelli’s program, entitled Down No More, focuses on training and mentoring to ensure those released from prison have a personal accountability for their lives, and the lives of their spouses and children.
Morelli indicated the U.S. has more people incarcerated than any nation in the world and that California has the highest rate of recidivism among inmates of any state in the union, about 37%. At an annual cost of $84,000 per inmate, this is an economic issue as well as a moral or ethical issue. He also indicated recent prison reform initiatives, while seemingly well thought out, have left a lot of uncertainty in how to apply the new laws and that sometimes this uncertainty fails to be fair to the public and to those incarcerated. He also indicated 95% of all California prisoners will eventually be released, so ensuring they can productively reenter society – and not return to prison - is in everyone’s interest.
Morelli’s Down No More program provides a year of training prior to release for those inmates who volunteer for the program and agree to follow its guidelines. It focuses on accountability and ensuring near-term releasees have the skill sets to survive out of prison, without having to revert to illegal activity to get by day to day. The in-prison training is coupled with a mentor program that begins in prison and continues for about six months after release, to assist the individual transition from prison life to being able to take care of themselves in society, and take care of those for whom they may also be responsible. His program, although relatively small in scale compared to the California prison population, has an extraordinarily impressive recidivism rate of under 10%.
In closing, Morelli requested attendees write to their elected officials citing the need to focus on ensuring inmates receive more preparation for their eventual release, as the costs of imprisoning go up dramatically because of the failure of the current system to stem the rate of recidivism.
Next up for the Coronado Roundtable on Nov. 15 is Serge Dedina, Executive Director of Wildcoast, and mayor of Imperial Beach, who will discuss preserving California’s coastal ecosystem.