Antelope Valley Program Representatives Delivered Presentation at Annual Legal Conference
What began as a pilot program to help justice-involved adults successfully return to the community is now considered a model to be replicated in other markets. Launched in 2018, The Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley (CCAV) serves as the lead agency for the Wraparound Engagement Desert Outreach – or WEDO –reentry program, which coordinates the resources and expertise of several partner organizations. Last week, representatives from CCAV, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Olive Support Services shared insight about the program during a presentation at the Equal Justice Conference in Minneapolis, Minn.
Funded by a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, CCAV’s reentry program works closely with the California Department of Parole to identify what tools, resources, and support are most beneficial to helping formerly incarcerated individuals re-acclimate to the community. This includes court-recognized classes, free legal services, medical care, housing and employment assistance, spiritual guidance, and establishing social connections with others who have shared experiences. Hundreds of people participate in the WEDO reentry program each year. The efficacy of the program can be seen in its low recidivism rate, which is just 3 percent. By contrast, recidivism in California is nearly 50 percent.
“What makes our program unique is its comprehensive, wraparound approach, through which we leverage the resources of complementary organizations,” said Carol Stevenson, CCAV’s community engagement manager and conference presenter. “As a community-based organization, CCAV has been able to establish synergistic relationships and nimbly adapt to the needs of participants in our program.”
Jarrell Mitchell, a senior attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, led the presentation entitled “A Holistic Approach to Removing Employment Barriers for People with Criminal Records in Under-Resourced & Rural Communities.” A native of the Antelope Valley, Mitchell explained the uniqueness of the community and the creative solutions WEDO uses to help justice-involved adults secure employment after incarceration.
“While Neighborhood Legal Services can assist individuals with their legal needs, we recognized that support for justice-involved adults and their families should be much broader,” said Mitchell. “By taking a holistic, whole-person approach, we have significantly improved participants’ chances of success in building the futures they envision.”
Presenter Osas Otasowie, executive director for Palmdale-based Olive Support Services, explained the importance of recognition as essential to a successful reentry program. Olive Support Services provides court-recognized classes, spiritual guidance, and case management for WEDO reentry participants.
“Just as important as the classes themselves is encouragement along the way,” noted Otasowie. “Incremental recognition of progress helps keep participants motivated and on-track toward their goals of completing up to a year’s worth of classes.”
Additionally, CCAV and Olive Support Services host monthly social events for WEDO reentry participants to build social connections with other families that are justice-impacted. “Incarceration affects every member of the family,” added Otasowie. “We aim to reduce stigmas and help our participants build lifelong friendships, which also contributes to the overall success of the program.”
The original county grant was scheduled to end in June but has been extended until midyear 2023. CCAV and its partners are hoping to increase awareness of the success of the WEDO reentry program and secure additional grant funding. More information and a video overview of the reentry program is available at ccav.org/reentry.
In addition to the presenting organizations, Bartz-Altadonna provides medical care to program participants.
About the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference
Sponsored by the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid & Defender Association, the Equal Justice Conference is an annual gathering of legal services and pro bono advocates to share and learn about developments and innovations in providing legal services to low-income persons.