SANTA CRUZ -- County officials are directing nearly a third of funding provided by the state to implement a prison realignment law into a host of social services designed to keep felons from reoffending on the outside.

Assembly Bill 109 went into effect in October 2011, shifting incarceration for nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual offenders from state prisons to county jails and from state parole to county probation departments upon release. The county is funneling about $1.5 million of $5.2 million in annual funding from the state for AB 109 into intervention, including housing, mental health treatment and conflict resolution, provided by 15 local nonprofits or government agencies.

The largest share of the intervention funding, nearly $600,000, is designated for substance abuse treatment.

Janus of Santa Cruz is a key provider, offering outpatient counseling, detoxification, residential treatment, methadone management and family reunification. Rod Libbey, executive director, said Janus has served fewer than a dozen AB 109 participants so far.

"What I found interesting about 109 folks is they're response to treatment is the same as other people who come here," he said. "They know this is always part of their recidivism. They finally understand that if I don't take care of this, it's going to be the same old thing."

Libbey acknowledges people coming out of prison might concern some residents in his organization's sober living environments, but he doesn't anticipate any problems.

"I can't say that it won't happen at all," he said, using the illustration of someone entering a sober living home with tattoos all over his body. "We have to explain to people that just because they come in that way doesn't mean they are violent or a threat."

The county paid for Travis Morton, a former drug offender who is being supervised by probation officials, to enter a sober living environment. After his housing was stabilized, the Community Restoration Project of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County helped him secure a job at a local construction firm.

HELP FINDING JOBS

Morton said it is difficult to get a job when almost every application requires the disclosure of felony convictions. He said the program taught him how to do a job interview, build character references, write thank you letters and identify skills he didn't realize he had.

"It gave me hope," he said.

Erin Nelson-Serrano, director of the Community Restoration Project, one of the social service providers contracted with the county, said the organization also helps probationers put together a packet for potential employers that includes a "letter of remorse" explaining that they had been incarcerated and how they've changed or what they learned from the experience.

The packet also may provide information about tax credits employers like Morton's may be eligible for because they hired former offenders.

The Community Restoration Project also offers assistance paying a probationer's fines at the Department of Motor Vehicles or buying a bus pass -- barriers that could keep them from seeking and maintaining a job.

Staff members usually meet the AB 109 participants in public places, sober living environments or other places where they are staying. Safety is not a concern, Nelson-Serrano said, but she said staff members will notify probation if a client misses appointments.

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