Trying to survive after incarceration



BEFORE:  Every Tuesday morning an average of thirty parolees, some having served more than 25 years in prison, are released to our community. Every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. a panel called PACT (Parole Action Community Team) composed of community based organizations (CBOs) and faith based organizations (FBOs) who are service providers sit behind tables facing these newly released inmates. PACT has been the first line of support for the released inmates in Santa Clara County. The panel offers help to these individuals who would be facing tremendous pressures as they start rebuilding their lives (looking for a job, a place to stay, get training and education, medical help, etc.),  readjust to society, coping with pressures of expectations to live ‘productive lives as law-abiding citizens’, reconnect with families who have more often than not severed relationships.  For more than ten years, PACT has been providing these services and although there have been successes in a lot of areas, recidivism has always been a great concern. An element of support that was not fully considered by PACT was mental health services – until a component within the MHSA program of Santa Clara County Mental Health Department reached out to PACT and established a support service within the panel. Mental health is a critical aspect of a released inmate’s successful re-entry into society. Through the Ethnic and Cultural Community Advisory Committee (ECCAC) under MHSA, a mental health component was incorporated in PACT. This innovative approach of providing services to this extremely disadvantaged  population was proposed  as  INN-06 in one of the MHSA programs.

AFTER two years of implementing ECCAC  mental health outreach/advocacy and support services within PACT, significant development have been observed in two areas.   As shown by studies, it is not unusual to observe that many, if not all, of incarcerated individuals have mental health issues.  Through ECCAC involvement, members of PACT were encouraged to be more aware of this and  be educated on how to better understand the basic mental health needs of  post-incarceration consumers  – staff of CBOs and FBOs were invited to participate in our Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trainings.  The other significant observation is that, whereas in the past, recidivism would happen within days or weeks after release, in the period following the incorporation of mental health within PACT more and more released inmates are remaining in transitional care – especially those who have been placed in sober living environment (SLE) facilities with emphasis on spiritual healing – facilities generally managed by faith-based organizations.  Today several of the Santa Clara County released parolees are living transformed lives, especially those who were given the MHFA trainings (for free through ECCAC); through education in navigating mental health services such as the Urgent Care Facility of the Mental Health Dept. and providing access through the Santa Clara County Mental Health Call Center.


The success of these programs is based on involvement of ECCAC community partners.  Through community partners, especially those with lived experience regarding being in similar traumatic situations, or family members who have experienced the secondary trauma of enduring the incarceration of a loved one, our  role of being peer mentors really go a long way towards gaining the trust and faith  of  post-incarceration consumers – which consequentially will allow for a better understanding of their mental health needs and wants, and for us to be  able to help them effectively.


Some of those who have transformed their lives with ongoing success after being released through PACT to facilities with MHFA services are:  Paul, incarcerated for 17 years, released to NCCM transitional home, now attends San Jose City College and was reconciled with his daughter last year (after not  speaking to each other since she was 14 years old – she is now twenty one); Patrick, incarcerated for 18 years, released to NCCM, now works at Wal-Mart and assists at a transitional home for men;  Bonnie, released to NCCM after being incarcerated for 6 years, she was allowed to bring her 7-year old daughter to live with her;  Enrique, 28 years old, has been in and out of jail since he was 14 years old (starting at juvenile hall), released from prison three years ago and now is finishing chaplaincy training under Cham Church. There are many others…..


Sarah Gonzalez

ECCAC Community Partner

Santa Clara County Mental Health Dept.


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