Solano County 'Second Chance' Program Attracts National Attention

The Times-Herald

By Melissa Murphy

When most teenagers were dealing with homework and spending time with friends, Kimberly King was experiencing something very different.

She was just 13 when her mom introduced her to drugs. What followed was a life of uncertainty, alcohol and drug use, and crime.

King was 16 when she was ensnared in an abusive relationship that she would endure for 10 years. She used drugs to try to escape and was in jail for the first time at age 18. There didn't seem to be an end to her destructive ways.

It wasn't until she was in jail for the second time for possession of drugs and car theft that she really got a second chance.

"The first time I went to jail I didn't have the support group I needed," King said recently. The second time around, she connected with a Solano County program -- Women's Re-Entry Achievement Program (WRAP) -- that made all the difference.

WRAP, which is gaining national attention, is designed to work with women while they are in jail and after they are released. It helps them deal with the trauma in their lives and avoid the obstacles that can lead to re-offending and help them transition back into society and find success.

King graduated last year from the program that she says has changed her life.

"I didn't have the positive women in my life the first time (in jail)," King said.

The second time, those positive role models made all the difference. "They're really there for us," she said of the caseworkers and others who work with the women in the program. "They didn't judge us, and showed support no matter why we were in there."

Brandy Bauman also can attest to the benefits of the WRAP program. She's lost count of how many times she's been in and out of jail and how many court cases are in her record.

After being raped repeatedly by a close relative between the ages of 9 and 14, Bauman said she tried to escape with drug use, all the while being tossed between foster care homes.

"I used whatever I could to numb the pain," she said.

When she was 18, she was booked for trafficking, possession of drugs and possession of deadly weapons. She was high when she planned to rob someone and leave the state, but was caught before she carried out the plan.

Facing a potential 10 years in prison, Bauman connected with WRAP.

"I've never had somebody care so faithfully about me," she said. "I got everything I needed."

Case managers and empowerment groups regularly meet in jail with the women. Each class, Bauman said, would "open my mind a little more to what my heart really wanted."

"I wanted to find me without the drugs," she said.

Bauman, 21, now has a job, has been clean for 17 months and is now a licensed, registered and insured driver -- a big accomplishment in her life.

"My life is awesome today," she said. "I know I'm worth it. WRAP offered me a second chance at a first-class life."

In one month, Bauman will no longer be considered "high risk."

"I have things that I worked for instead of robbing people," she said.

Those kinds of success stories are part of the reason the WRAP program is gaining national notice. The Department of Justice chose seven programs, including WRAP, out of more than 40 demonstration projects to evaluate how these models could be rolled out nationally in the coming years. Federal evaluators visited Solano County in January.

Stephan Betz, assistant director of Health and Social Services, said there was a need for the program locally. Women being released from custody need structure outside the prison system. WRAP is a program designed to do just that.

In the past, programs have been "all been male-oriented because that's the majority of the (parole) population," Betz said. "The women needed their own risk and needs assessment. They are so much different than the male population."

WRAP is a unique model that uses gender-based risk assessments and trauma-informed case management. It works as a collaborative partnership between Health and Social Services, the Sheriff's Office, Probation Department, District Attorney's Office of Family Violence Prevention, Public Defender, the Re-entry Council and community partners to assist the women who have a moderate to high risk of returning to the system.

The program is really an answer to re-entry issues, said Pat Nicodemus, case manager for WRAP.

"Women in the past were able to identify what obstacles they would face after being released," Nicodemus said. "I think it's a wonderful program."

For Solano County Superior Court Judge Wendy Getty, WRAP is one of her "favorite" programs.

"It's very special and a great thing," she said, speaking highly of all the people working behind the scenes to make sure the women are successful. "The program starts in jail and follows the women outside of jail. That transition is key."

She added that WRAP looks at the whole picture, that includes addressing mental issues and drug dependency.

"It's made a big difference," Getty said. "I see the hope on their faces when they didn't have hope before."

Most program graduates have children, she noted.

"This is a chance at stopping the cycle," of the children following in their parent's footsteps, Getty said. "I know (WRAP) is working because they're not coming back."

King, who is now 27 and almost two years clean and sober, has two children, Alex, 1, and Darren, 7, and breaking that cycle of abuse is important for her. She said, thanks to Wrap, her future is brighter now and taking care of Alex and Darren is her motivation to stay on the right track. She doesn't want her sons to grow up in the same environment she did.

"Those things I did before, I would never do that now," she said. "WRAP helped me learn that I am loved and I can be self-sufficient on my own. I don't need a man telling me that they love me for all the wrong reasons. I need to do what's right for my kids."

Both King and Bauman said they have goals to give back and help other women who are just like they once were.

"I want to give what was so freely given to me to other women," Bauman said. "I have all these possibilities. Anything is possible."