Tenth Congressional District candidate Bob Poe, trailed by his spouse and some of his staff including his daughter, Virginia, entered the Orange County Jail on Monday afternoon. What they found — that the inmates there had many options for rehabilitation — pleasantly surprised them.
For two hours, Poe and his posse walked the halls of the jail, escorted by Major Rick Dumas and Captain Barry White, along with jail Public Information Officer Tracy Zampaglione. Poe asked questions about how many inmates were homeless, what percentage of the inmates were women and what the education opportunities were like.
The tour took the group through the Orange County Public Schools-sponsored classroom setting, where lead teacher Cheryl Wilson told them some inmates finally get a structure to their lives and are able to turn things around when they get out of jail. Some of them later come back with college diplomas, she said.
Dumas, White and Zampiglione answered questions about the video visitation system on which inmates can speak to loved ones outside the jail.
In addition, they said a tablet-based system would prevent people from sneaking in contraband items for their loved ones in prison. They recounted one tale about an inmate who got a small gun from someone visiting them. The inmate also had a sledgehammer hidden somewhere and tried to break out the window of their bunk later, and, using the gun, started an altercation with the guards.
But the Orange County Jail doesn’t have any plans to implement the system now, they said.
Then, Poe and his crew visited the veterans’ area, where veterans in prison are separated from the general population if they have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder or other exceptions that require them to be separated. There, the veterans take their own classes and work to better themselves for when they get out. And the area also offers help to veterans who were homeless on the outside.
“We’re trying to make a difference,” said Duane Chamberlin, the senior community corrections officer who oversees the unit.
Then the group visited the acute housing center for inmates with medical or mental health issues. There, the staff displayed the recently-acquired X-ray machine, called SecurPass, which makes sure inmates aren’t coming into the facility holding drugs or other contraband. The technology helps to prevent inmates from overdosing on drugs they sneak in with them.
After the tour, Poe said he was pleasantly surprised at the efforts of the jail to “break the cycle” of people coming and going from incarceration.
“If you only provide punishment, you’re not even beginning to solve the problem,” he said. “You have to have criminal justice reform, to make sure when people are released, the community is not at risk.”
Poe has always been interested in criminal justice reform, he says, having worked with prison ministries and also offered those with criminal pasts to apply to his campaign.
“We need to break the cycle of people incarcerated, released and then they commit another crime,” Poe said. “Our record as a society has not been good. We have some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. There must be something we’re not doing right.”