By Quincy Whitt, CC III, MCRP-LA 2 and Brian Peterson, CC III, MCRP Kern

CDCR’s efforts for offender rehabilitation can be seen from the hard work of dedicated staff and the commitment of participants in the Male Community Reentry Program (MCRP). This voluntary program is for male inmates who have approximately 365 days left to serve. It allows eligible inmates committed to state prison to serve the end of their sentences in the community in lieu of confinement in state prison.

The MCRP is designed to provide, or arrange linkage to, a range of community-based, rehabilitative services that assist with substance use disorders, mental health care, medical care, employment, education, housing, family reunification, and social support. MCRPs help participants successfully reenter the community from prison and reduce recidivism.

There are currently six MCRPs in the state: Butte County, Kern County, San Diego County and three locations in Los Angeles County.

Transitioning from prison life to community and family life can prove to be a challenge. Upon his arrival to the MCRP-LA 2 in March of 2017, Scott Ballinger was determined to defy the odds. He was sentenced from Los Angeles County to serve six years for the commitment offense of Transport/Import of a Controlled Substance.

Upon his arrival at the MCRP, Mr. Ballinger made it known he wanted to take full advantage of what the program had to offer so he could be an asset to society.  Mr. Ballinger said that being a 49‑year-old convicted felon could make re-integration into society an uphill battle. Soon after arriving, he realized this program was exactly what he needed. He seized the opportunity to attend groups offered by MCRP such as job placement services; money management services; anger management; criminal thinking; family reunification and parenting; and, life skills. Coupled with his family’s support and his work experience in construction, Mr. Ballinger has defied the odds against him. He maintains a positive and thankful attitude.

For the past two months, Mr. Ballinger has been working as a construction foreman for a private company on a project at a local hospital. His current salary is $30 an hour, and he is a member of the construction union. Mr. Ballinger goes to work promptly every day and returns to the MCRP without delay. He turns in his paychecks, understanding that upon his release in March of 2018, he will need the accrued funds to assist him with the transition back into community life. When Mr. Ballinger paroles, he will need money for rent, food and transportation. The money he saves will be an obvious benefit.

Even prior to securing employment, Mr. Ballinger proved to be an asset to the MCRP.  On one occasion, Mr. Ballinger, along with other MCRP participants, joined contract‑provider staff in travelling to the newly opened MCRP in Long Beach. Their intent was to encourage the Long Beach participants to take advantage of everything the program has to offer them.  Mr. Ballinger candidly shared his background, and described how the MCRP had reunited him with his family; particularly, his grandson. Mr. Ballinger said his grandson was one of the main motivations for him to “stay on the straight and narrow.”

Aside from his continued success in his career, and regular attendance in his assigned group, Mr. Ballinger is also an advocate and mentor to many of the MCRP participants, who seek his guidance and support. Staff often hear Mr. Ballinger explain to others, “If you take advantage of what the MCRP has to offer, the opportunities can be endless.”

Earl Eby arrived at the Kern MCRP in March of 2017. Mr. Eby was sentenced to serve 2 years 8 months for possession of a firearm by a felon or addict (second striker) and first-degree burglary. Since his arrival at the MCRP, he has been a model programmer, participating in groups and displaying a great attitude with staff and other participants.  Mr. Eby expressed a desire to attend college and worked with his contract‑provider counselor.  With his counselor’s assistance, Mr. Eby enrolled at Bakersfield College (BC). He took Advanced Algebra last semester (his first semester) and received a B in the course. This semester he is currently enrolled in Music Technology, Logic and Physical Education and currently has an A in all three classes. His goal is to complete 60 units at BC and then transfer to California State University, Bakersfield, (CSUB) to complete his Bachelors of Arts degree.

Mr. Eby has connected with Michael Dodson, the Project Rebound coordinator at CSUB, who acts as a mentor and adviser for all Project Rebound participants. Project Rebound is a program through the Cal State system that assists inmates and parolees seek higher education. Aside from this, Mr. Eby was able to find weekend employment in his area of study (Music Technology). He works on the weekends at local events/sports arenas, setting up and running the lights, sound and technology needed for concerts, shows and sports events.

Mr. Eby is expected to be released in November of 2017.

Both MCRP participants, Mr. Ballinger and Mr. Eby have demonstrated that despite the odds, with focus and support, anyone can reach their goals.

Additional information about CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) can be found at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/rehabilitation/index.html.