Massive jail expansion is finished. Can the programs change the lives of inmates?

Stanislaus County leaders said a new minimum security jail facility, now complete at the Public Safety Center, is designed for programs to change the criminal patterns of inmates and ensure fewer come back after their release.

Public tours of what’s called the REACT center held this week touted the classrooms in each housing unit, a family reunification room and sitting areas with multimedia screens.

So far, the array of programs to assist inmates with addiction, behavioral issues and the vocational skills they’ll need to live in the community after release is still being developed, staff members said. Authorities first need to determine which inmates will occupy the 288-bed facility, Sgt. Pedro Beltran said.

A schedule calls for moving inmates in May into the addition, which caps a massive expansion and modernization of the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road.

Beltran and Lt. Frank Martinez, commander of the programs unit, said they will talk with other counties such as Alameda about their rehab services and what might be effective.

The success or failure of the rehab programs will have a bearing on how safe Stanislaus County residents feel in neighborhoods and whether the county gets a handle on drug addiction that’s linked to crime and family dysfunction.

Statewide public safety realignment starting in 2011 made lower-level offenders the responsibility of local jurisdictions and provided funds for counties to expand jails and reduce recidivism. Tuolumne County recently began construction on a facility similar to REACT.

Beltran said hundreds of inmates are in programs in the medium and maximum security units next door, but the REACT center – standing for Re-Entry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training – is far better equipped to support programs for inmates.

The Sheriff’s office has pulled together a reference catalog with goals and guidelines for inmates assigned to the REACT center.

According to the catalog, an inmate will first request an interview with a program deputy and undergo an assessment before staff works up an individual plan for services.

Inmate programs will be directly related to the five essentials of the county’s Focus on Prevention initiative, emphasizing social connections, health, education, employment preparation and stable housing.

Focus on Prevention is a 10-year initiative that targets the root causes of social decay to improve the quality of life for county residents.

The resource catalog includes courses on overcoming the effects of an abusive childhood, managing anger, behavioral change and building a constructive mental attitude. There are courses for adults tormented by addiction and mental health issues, as well as parenting classes, computer classes, instruction in welding and landscaping and other vocational training for men and women.

In working with inmates, staff said, the Public Safety Center partners with county behavioral health and recovery services and community groups such as Friends Outside, the Gospel Mission, El Concilio, and The Potter’s House.

Beltran said the family reunification area, one of the highlights of Tuesday’s tours, will be more than a place for inmates to visit with spouses and children. Rather it could be a setting for parenting classes, counseling and family-building exercises.

Beltran and Martinez said that inmates with a sincere desire to change their ways want education and vocational training. They added that case management is already prized at the Public Safety Center, so there is never just “a kick out the door” when people are released. They continue with substance abuse or mental health services at the nearby daily reporting probation center at the Hackett Road complex.

Mitchell Gruber, who spoke at Tuesday’s dedication, introduced himself as an addict and career auto thief who helped establish Modesto as a car-theft capital.

After he was paroled for the fourth time, Gruber told his probation officer about his drug cravings and the dangers of idle time. He got help from the Leaders in Community Alternatives drug rehab team and graduated from the Cal-Trade Welding School in Modesto. Gruber said he has not put drugs or smoke in his body for 280 days.

“I don’t have to turn and run anymore because I am living a different life,” Gruber said.

In a poignant moment at Tuesday’s ceremony, a color guard unveiled a memorial outside the REACT center to the county’s fallen deputies. The street in front of the new center was named for Deputy Robert Paris, who was shot and killed in an April 2012 ambush while serving eviction papers at a town home in northwest Modesto.

With the addition of 840 beds at the Public Safety Center, county leaders are hoping to accomplish more than vacating the antiquated men’s jail in downtown Modesto.

Friends Outside, a nonprofit that’s worked with the sheriff’s department for 40 years, has parenting and anger management classes with inmates and helps them with workforce readiness after their release. The nonprofit hopes to teach computer basics at the REACT center because those skills are essential for anyone trying to find work, director Lynn Goldstein said.

“It is still being developed,” Goldstein said of the REACT center programs. “We have some ideas but nothing has been set in stone. The sheriff’s department is looking at a variety of partners and our agency is only one. They are really making an effort to go into the community and choose specific partners in trying to enhance what they want to do.”

Goldstein said in the 1990s the sheriff’s office, combined with community organizations, had good success with inmates who completed an eight-week program in life skills, drug and alcohol counseling, education and employment training. The programs were funded by a Department of Education grant.

“I think it definitely will make an impact if people are in that right frame of mind,” Goldstein said. “They have to want it, and part of what helps is to have a good family support system that is behind them.”

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16