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75 Inmates at Pitchess Celebrate a Day of MERIT

Posted: February 26, 2008 3:05 a.m.
Updated: April 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Last week's rainstorm cleared up just in time for 75 men to bask in the sunshine and celebrate a new beginning at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The men are the newest set of graduates from Pitchess' MERIT Program, which stands for "Men Evolving to Recovery Through In-custody Treatment."

As graduates assembled at the center, several speakers talked about the value of the program while a band composed of inmates entertained everyone in attendance throughout the ceremony.

It was a landmark day for the graduates, who were challenged by the program to be proactive about their lives, thus preventing a return to jail or prison in the future.

"In a normal situation, someone is arrested, they go to jail and they never learn how to fix the problem," said Marc Desrochers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which operates Pitchess. "Oftentimes they are back in again."

Yet the MERIT program aims to prevent participants from returning to prison by focusing on anger management and substances abuse issues.

Made up of individuals between the ages of 18 and 50, the MERIT program is split into the Bridges to Recovery course that focuses on domestic issues, and a separate course specifically for veterans.

Graduates of the two classes had a history of anger issues or alcohol abuse issues. Inmates go through 12 weeks of classes. A six-week certificate is offered for those who make it halfway through the program. Monday's ceremony was for those who completed the 12-week program.

"The inmates were very proud of the graduation ceremony," said Desrochers, who is also active in the MERIT program as an instructor. "Several inmates came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my participation in the program."

He added that the graduation is so significant that one of the ceremony's musicians, a former inmate who was just released on Sunday, returned to Pitchess to play in the band.


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