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Life after Prison: Riverside County Probation Takes Over

Angela Monroe

Life after Prison: Riverside County Probation Takes Over

CREATED Feb. 16, 2012

 A plan to help relieve overcrowding in state prisons has shifted the responsibility of keeping tabs on ex-cons now living outside of prison walls and next door to you.
Your local public safety department is now on the job, rather than the Department of Corrections.
There's new hope that a more localized approach to the probation system will decrease the number of past offenders returning to a life of crime.
 And as you're about to see, Riverside County probation officers are making sure former inmates get the help they need while ensuring the safety of your neighborhood. 
"This is my house, as you can see its really not much to look at. My mom, my kids and me we live here."
Nancy Gaspar invites us into her Cathedral City home.  She just returned in October after being in prison for a little over a year.
"I had a case pending since 2001 for insufficient fund check and for controlled substance," said Gaspar.
She told us about the journey back from behind bars.
"Well it's been really hard, I mean you get frustrated, you know you try to do whatever you can just to stay out of trouble."
Jonathon Shields spent over six years in prison and working in fire camps for grand theft and possession of methamphetamine.
"It hasn't all been roses, it's been a little bit difficult but it started out slow, I started out staying in motels," said Shields.
The Riverside County Probation Department checks on both Shields and Gaspar.
Previously, it would have been the state-run Department of Corrections overseeing them.
But with the passage of AB109, the realignment now puts local probation in charge.
"We now have a more local attachment versus the state methodology, is I think we will be much more effective, I truly believe we will," said Chief Alan Crogan with the Riverside County Probation Department.
Since October, 1,000 inmates released from prison are now the responsibility of Probation.
The Department of Corrections says 70 percent of people re-offend and return to custody.
Chief Probation Officer Alan Crogan says local control can help change that.
"If you can just reduce 50 percent of what has been the past revocation rate off the inmates, I mean that is a sustantial change in the whole system. Fewer court dates, fewer jail dates, fewer people being represented by the public defender, fewer services and most importantly, less victimization of the community."
But the department will add up to 72 new employees to handle the new caseload.
"With realignment came the funding, so the staffing has been a challenge because of the numbers," said Crogan.
Jonathon Shields now has a job, a new apartment, and is back with his girlfriend, Jodi Lynn Smith, whom he met before he went to prison.
"She keeps me in check a little bit, I just like this life now, being free, being able to go outside, walk to the store, do stuff like that, it's kind of nice, without somebody telling me, hey get up, go to sleep, eat now, I hate that," said Shields.
And Jodi is helping make sure he never returns to prison again.
"I would knock him out okay, he would never want to be released again," said Smith.
They both say the probation department helps with support.
"With the parole system its a little less to me, they offer nothing, I asked can I do this, can I get this, the probation at least had the resources for me to look into," said Shields.
"I've been on probation myself, and a lot of support comes from your probation officer," said Smith.
The probation department also helped out Nancy Gaspar.
"Christmas I mean I got a little bummed out you know because I wasn't working and I really didn't have anything for my kids, and they brought them a lot of presents," said Gaspar.
Nancy's daughter, Natalie, showed us her present, and said its a gift having her mom back at home.
"It's been really good to see her and being able to be around her now," said Natalie.
And for Nancy, its family and faith that keeps her strong.
"You know going through the whole year that I went through, being away from them, just it made me think a lot of what I'm missing out on," said Gaspar.
And Chief Crogan has faith that local control over released inmates can help keep them out of prison.
"By and large people want to have a sane and stable life. And so given the opportunity to reinforce the positive behavior, hold them accountable, but hold them accountable and reinforce the good," said Crogan.
The probation department sets up supervision terms based on needs.
People on probation meet with their officers and various counseling programs at the very least three times a month, but every two or three days for higher risk offenders.