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  • The Centerforce Story

    In 1971 Seamus Kilty, a member of the management staff at Catholic Social Services of Marin, visited San Quentin State Prison under the auspices of the Marin County Grand Jury. When he observed families, friends and children of those incarcerated standing in inclement weather outside the prison gates, he was at once dismayed and challenged. He met with the Director of Catholic Social Services, Margaret Eilerman, to gain her support in providing a respite site for prison visitors to San Quentin. With the assistance of Catholic Social Services, he organized friends and other community members. Through hard work and determination, The House at San Quentin opened its doors in 1972 to welcome all who passed through.

    Using The House program as the model, Seamus Kilty and Maureen Fenlon, O.P. were instrumental in establishing Centerforce and its Network of Visitor Centers in 1975. Ms. Fenlon became the first executive director of the Centerforce agency and from 1975 to 1980 tirelessly worked to situate a visitor center at all the existing prisons. The path was not easy and did not always end in success, but slowly and methodically Centerforce expanded.

    Ms. Fenlon's immediate successors, Barbara Bloom and Henry Cleveland, decided that in order to maintain a funding base and be able to continue this important assistance to prison visitors, Centerforce's mission and focus must become mandated by law. Again, through tenacity and much toil on the part of the Centerforce staff and Board of Directors, Assembly Bill 1512 was passed by the legislature in 1982. This bill states that the California Department of Corrections must contract with a private nonprofit agency to provide prison visitor services. In 1999 alone, under the administration of Centerforce, over 350,000 visitors were provided 800,000 services including transportation, childcare, information and referral, and emergency clothing.

    While Centerforce continues to carry on the original mission of providing direct services to the visiting community, it has expanded its programming, encompassing a broader perspective and developing new projects such as the Parent Project at the Marin County Jail and the Literacy Project at San Quentin State Prison. One of its major accomplishments in 1997 was the establishment of the Health Programs Division which provides education regarding HIV, Hepatitis, and other health issues in prison and in the community.

    Today Centerforce provides services to incarcerated individuals and their families at various county jails, state prisons, and federal correctional facilities throughout Northern and Central California. Current efforts include our Children and Family Services and our Transitional Services areas. In the Children and Family Service area, we provide programs such as the Health Outcomes Means Empowerment or HOME Project. This collaborative research study between Centerforce and UCSF-CAPS consists of training women with incarcerated partners to be peer health educators. The study will look at individual, couple and institutional factors that affect HIV risk and examine the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of the peer education model with the visiting community. In the Transitional Service Area, we provide services such the Transitional Case Management Program (TCMP-CF). This program offers pre-release support and discharge planning to all HIV+ inmates housed at the California Medical Facility and San Quentin State Prison being released to the Bay Area. For other examples of our Centerforce services, please go to our Service Area page.

    Centerforce employs approximately 30 employees at a Northern California Office, Central California Office, San Quentin Village office and at The House at San Quentin State Prison (visitors center). Centerforce promotes opportunities for families of those incarcerated to be successful participants in their communities. The obstacles inherent with these populations are becoming even more encumbering and challenging. Centerforce projects enhance the lives of prison visitors and incarcerated individuals and are a positive link for these families and in communities throughout California.

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