Starting Points

Sonoma County in-jail program marks 10th year

Debriefer visited Sonoma County’s Main Adult Detention Facility (MADF) in Santa Rosa this past week for a tour of the jail and to check out the 10th anniversary commemoration of a touted in-jail program called Starting Point.

Local criminal justice leaders and pols were on hand, including Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo and Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas. They toured a jail module that houses female inmates.

Starting Point aims to reduce recidivism through a multi-point approach. It teaches life skills, GED classes, parenting classes and addiction treatment at the 1,000-bed jail.

Jail officials report that the program has had 4,000 people go through it in 10 years, and just about half of the graduates have never been re-arrested. Typical rates of recidivist inmate populations run around 75 percent nationally, they noted.

Carrillo was one of several speakers to address the group of women—a mixed group of ages and races, many taking notes, a few with scary neck tattoos—and said the day was also memorable for him: “Sixteen months ago today, I was arrested,” he said.

He said he was at the Starting Point ceremony in two capacities: as a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors which “understands the value” of the program (and funds it), and as a recovering alcoholic.

It was a poignant moment. Carrillo’s arrest date coincides with his sobriety date, and there he was, the only Sonoma County supervisor who showed up (another sent a staffer) to lend support to the incarcerated women.

Carrillo had been briefly locked up at the MADF in July 2013, after entering a neighboring woman’s property while intoxicated. A jury found him not guilty on a “peeking” charge earlier this year—and Carrillo, citing a family history of alcoholism, now says he “sees addiction from a whole different perspective. I was too arrogant.”

A graduate of the program named Lynn also spoke. She addressed the women with the familiar, “Hi, I’m Lynn, and I’m an addict,” and they welcomed her with gusto.

Lynn reported that her life was a mess when she arrived at the MADF four years ago. “I was the kind of addict that abandoned her children,” she said. “I ended up in places I never thought I’d end up.”

Now Lynn is clean and sober, “and it all started here,” she told the women. Many nodded at the encouragement and supportive words; others stared off into a distance only they could see.

Debriefer was at the jail because this paper recently reported on a trio of deaths that took place there over three weeks earlier this fall. After the Starting Point event, we caught up with Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker in the hallway for an update on the investigation.

Walker runs the jail and so far, he says, the investigations into the deaths have turned up nothing that might connect them.

One of the people who died was Rhonda Jo Everson, whose never got the chance for a new starting point. Her endpoint was in a solitary cell used for inmates undergoing withdrawal from drug use.

The State Board of Corrections, Walker said, will be part of the investigation and will “look at everything” at the jail to help determine if there’s any connection between the deaths. “We don’t ever accept it. It’s our job not to ever have that happen.”