Real change, it is said, comes from within.

A local program is changing lives with a new approach to keeping the community safe.

Known as the Cal State San Bernardino Reentry Initiative, the voluntary program helps individuals on active parole return to the community and become productive members of society.

According to the mission statement, they do this by “increasing public safety, reducing recidivism, and breaking the cycle of generational incarceration through comprehensive programming in a constructive environment.”

A gargantuan task to be sure.

The programs include transitional housing, sober living, substance abuse, anger management, domestic violence, health education, computer education, job/career development, life skills, bus passes, and food as well as educational and vocational programming.

There are four CSRI centers in the Inland Empire area — San Bernardino, Victorville, Moreno Valley and Indio — currently serving 459 parolees.

On a recent Tuesday, I had the opportunity to tour the San Bernardino facility and see classrooms, counseling offices, and a recreation room where there was air hockey, a chess set and a foosball game table.

A small room nearby was a closet where nice shirts, business suits and shoes were available for job interviews. All the new clothing had been donated by community businesses.

“We try to provide all our services under one roof – the county can provide a lot more for their probationers, but CSRI can get a little bit more out of that parolee because we don’t have weapons,” said Elaine Zucco, director of operations. “We address each of them directly — as a law-abiding person, and we will continue to do that unless they prove us wrong.”

The $7.5 million program is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rebabilitation, the Division of Rehabilitative Programs.

“At the front end, the students take a lot of classes, but as they complete them, their schedules will be modified in keeping with conditions of their parole – they will need jobs,” said Zucco, who has been involved since it was a pilot program in 2008.

Former Cal State Dean of the College of Education Jay Fiene is the lead researcher for the re-entry program.

“If we can help these folks get out of the cycle of being incarcerated, we have the potential of breaking a family cycle,” Fiene said.

“It depends on how you define ‘family.’ If a gang is the family and the business of the family is to get things however you can get them, then we have to create a different cycle of life and business for folks. That’s why I think these centers that we run are so effective. You have to approach it holistically. You’re not going to attend class well if you’re hungry – that’s why our partnerships are so important,” Fiene said.

“It’s not a Band-aid if we are changing it for generations. We’re helping people really think differently, giving them another chance,” Fiene said.

According to statistics from the Cal State Reentry Initiative, daily costs per person are $129.05 for incarceration, and $47.24 for CSRI students (parolees).

Random drug tests are part of CSRI students’ lives.

“Although marijuana is legal in the state, these students are not going to get a job if they’re using drugs,” Zucco said.

“We will provide them with the resources of a drug program,” said Ric Lugo, San Bernardino center manager.

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