A Los Angeles jail rehabilitation program for gay inmates is a success, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last week, 15 gay male inmates at Men’s Central Jail celebrated their earning high school diplomas or GEDs, or completing 10-week courses in drug rehabilitation, anger management, and life skills. “I am the most free I’ve ever been,” a tall young man who had completed the drug education course said from the podium. “I am finally able to like me. Today, everything is so bright, even when I close my eyes. I died years ago, and now I’m alive.”
The Times says that Men’s Central, a somber, echoing fortress, is a monument to personal failure, but the Social Mentoring Academic and Rehabilitative Training, or SMART, program, available to the 350 inmates in its three gay-only dormitories, has been a remarkable success.
In the 4 1/2 years of its existence, fewer than a third of the 157 inmates who have completed the 10-week life skills course have returned to jail, said Deputy Randy Bell, a former teacher who co-founded and co-directs the program. Before SMART, nearly 95% of gay inmates found their way back to jail, a rate that dwarfs estimates for general-population inmates.
Because of a federal court order issued in 1985, Los Angeles County’s is believed to be the only penal system in the U.S. where gay inmates are automatically segregated. No programs aimed at gays existed, however, until Bell and Deputy Bart Lanni put together SMART. Having no access to Sheriff’s Department funds, the pair equipped their operation by haunting yard sales and twisting the arms of friends and neighbors for donations of cash and old computers.