Inmate rehabilitation plan gets thumbs up

County officials on Tuesday pointed to the recovery of a 20-year former heroin addict and convict as proof that they should nearly double the size of a substance abuse program for jail inmates.

After hearing testimony from some of the program’s graduates, supervisors approved, in concept, a plan to add $461,000 to the roughly $656,000 annual budget for the county’s chemical dependency recovery services, or Choices, program. Doing so could help reduce overcrowding in Maguire Jail, which regularly operates at 150 percent of capacity, and dramatically reduce the 60 percent of inmates that routinely return to jail, officials said.

A heroin addict until the age of 40, Margie Candelaria, now 52, told supervisors she credits Choices with saving her life while she was in jail, calling the program “not only necessary but critical.”

Now, the president and founder of a consulting business that teaches clients ranging from corporate executives to convicts how to recognize, analyze and make better choices, Candelaria once had a very different life, she told supervisors. Growing up on the Peninsula in a family full of alcohol and drug abusers, she attended seven high schools in the county her freshman year of high school before dropping out the same year. She eventually found herself with three strikes, facing a 25-years-to-life prison sentence, but won alternative sentencing in the form of the Choices program.

“I was the person who had blown up all my bridges,” Candelaria said. Addicted to drugs, dedicated to the life of a convict, it wasn’t until she joined the Choices program that she began to turn her life around.

Dr. Teri Lynch DeLane, director of Choices, praised Candelaria, who eventually won her release, as a model for other inmates.

If Tuesday’s proposal is given final approved in budget negotiations in the coming week, the size of the program would increase by 100 percent, from 96 inmates to 192, and five more positions would be added to the staff of nine, officials said. A full-time probation officer would also be hired to act as a link between Choices and inmates who have been released, helping them find housing, job and medical services, Assistant Sheriff Greg Trindle said.

If successful, the program expansion could continue in the next six months to a year, Supervisor Adrianne Tissier said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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