Santa Clara County reentry center celebrates five years
Vinessa Lira, reentry program manager of Goodwill of Silicon Valley and a former South County Reentry Resource Center client, said reentry services provided her with support and counseling. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    A South County-focused reentry program is helping to transform the lives of individuals formerly incarcerated.

    The South County Reentry Resource Center in Gilroy is celebrating five years of providing crucial services to residents leaving jail and prison. Leaders said part of its success comes from partnering with Santa Clara County programs designed to break the cycle of incarceration and giving clients resources, financial assistance and social services.

    Javier Aguirre, director of the Santa Clara County Office of Diversion and Reentry Services, said reentry work is challenging as people have to change lifelong habits and overcome unemployment and homelessness.

    “But each year, we grow our reentry network and our tools for addressing those issues. We are seeing the fruits of our labors,” he said. “By fostering partnerships and initiatives, we are able to make meaningful changes for our public services and the lives of our residents.”

    The reentry center provides shelter or motel vouchers for its clients—66% lack permanent housing and 39% are unsheltered—and encourages them to work, return to school and receive counseling from mentors.

    Javier Aguirre, director of the Santa Clara County Office of Diversion and Reentry Services, said the reentry center works to create opportunities for formerly incarcerated people and gives them resources to succeed. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Vinessa Lira, reentry program manager of Goodwill of Silicon Valley and a former  resource center client, said reentry services provided her with mental health care, faith-based support, counseling and substance abuse classes when she left jail 10 years ago.

    “I didn’t know how I was going to break the cycle I was in for years,” she told San José Spotlight. “I was tired of living like that. It was exhausting letting everyone and myself down. I had no excuse to go back. I had every resource at my fingertips.”

    The Gilroy resident had to travel by bus to San Jose for reentry services, so when the Gilroy location opened in 2018, it made a huge difference for South County residents coming out of incarceration.

    In addition to housing and vouchers for food and clothing and a job referral, Lira said the program gave her the opportunity to help others in need.

    “It’s amazing to be able to give back,” she said. “To see people changing their lives, getting their kids and marriage back. It’s so rewarding.”

    County Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, along with a representative from Supervisor Otto Lee’s office, presented a certificate to the reentry center commemorating its five years of community work. The reentry center also received certificates from Assemblymembers Ash Kalra and Robert Rivas, who weren’t in attendance.

    Arenas said both she and the center are working to create generational change for brown and Black people.

    “For our brown children not to have a pipeline from school to prison,” she said. “I’m absolutely proud that this center exists. That there are so many people working to stop that pipeline. To make sure our pipeline goes straight to universities.”

    Santa Clara County Chief Executive Jeff Smith said the county is dedicated to bringing equity through the reentry center and social services.

    “Now is the time to up the ante and improve our services,” Smith said. “To not only help people who have been in the criminal justice system reenter society, but we want to find ways to prevent them from getting involved in the criminal justice system to begin with.”

    Aguirre said the South County Reentry Resource Center is making headway, as only 29% of clients have reoffended and been convicted.

    “We know a connection makes a big difference in reducing reoffending rates,” he told San José Spotlight. “We want to make sure that all of our county residents… get that second chance in being productive citizens.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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