Publication Date

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Master's Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Administration (MPA)


Public Administration

First Advisor

Frances Edwards


Reentry, Peer Mentor, Recidivism, AB109


In the United States, incarceration rates have increased dramatically over the last three decades, soaring above any other country. Significant factors contributing to the increase include changes in sentencing laws and policies that target drug-related offenders and prioritize punishment over rehabilitation. Strict sentencing laws have led to mass incarceration, which has caused severe prison overcrowding and led to the infringement of fundamental human rights in prisons (Gottesdiener, 2011).

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 600,000 individuals are released from federal and state prisons each year (Carson, 2018). In California, an estimated one in three adults has an arrest record (Practicing Law Institute, 2021). In addition, recidivism rates are high in the state, with 46% of offenders reconvicted within three years of release and even more arrested (Jensen, 2021). In Santa Clara County, the recidivism rate is 45%, slightly lower than the state average (County of Santa Clara, 2019b). The County of Santa Clara (SCC) defines recidivism as any reconviction for a new misdemeanor or felony violation within five years after release from a correctional facility (County of Santa Clara, 2017a).

According to Carson (2018), approximately 95% of U.S. prison inmates are ultimately released and reenter society. Reentry is commonly defined as the transition of an individual from a corrective setting back into the community. There are currently thousands of ex-offenders returning to California communities each year; in 2018, the figure was approximately 38,400 (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2020). The growing number of recently released individuals, coupled with high incarceration costs from recidivism--approximately $80k to house an inmate annually (Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2019)--has prompted urgent attention to reentry issues. As such, reentry programming and reducing the rate of recidivism are a critical focus of the SCC’s criminal justice policy and reform efforts (County of Santa Clara, 2019b).

In addition to the need to reduce recidivism through evidence-based reentry programming, SCC recognizes a growing demand in the workforce for peer mentors—also known as peer support providers, peer specialists, peer advocates, and peer counselors. As many local jurisdictions move away from straight incarceration to treatment strategies for those afflicted with substance and alcohol addictions, there is a growing need for qualified professionals in the field of treatment and recovery (County of Santa Clara, 2019a). Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Justice Committee, stated, “Since this approach will depend heavily on evidence-based programs, it is important for recovery and treatment programs to have counselors who are certified. The work and contribution they offer to mentees will be invaluable” (County of Santa Clara, 2019a, para. 2). SCC has developed a multi-faceted Reentry Resource Center (RRC) with programming to promote successful reentry and prevent recidivism. This study posed the following research question for one of the programs under the RRC: How is the Alcohol and Drug Studies (ADS) Peer Mentor Program fulfilling its program goals?