Summit held to help East Bay Parolees

September 19, 2008 7:14:27 PM PDT
There are about 16,000 parolees living in Oakland. Experts say as many as three out of four are likely to go back to prison. Oakland has been trying to change those numbers for more than a decade now.

Last month, Contra Costa College employee Martin Padilla was killed by a car driven by a parolee trying to elude sheriff's deputies.

Police say at least one of the restaurant takeover robbers, Rashaan Lamonthe, has been identified as a parolee.

Terrance Dorsey knows how hard it is for parolees to stay out of trouble.

"The hardest thing is not going back to that life. Knowing it was easy in that life, so that's the hardest thing," said Dorsey.

In Alameda County, 75 percent of those released from prison get arrested again -- evidence that past attempts to reduce that staggeringly high recidivism rate failed.

But for the 22-year-old parolee, the system seems to be working. He's learning carpentry at the youth employment partnership, a group that helps ex-felons.

The Alameda County Re-Entry Network wants to expand job programs like this one to help parolees.

"They need income immediately of some sort while they transition back," said Junious Williams from the Urban Strategies Council.

On Friday, law enforcement officials, social workers and politicians held a summit in Oakland. They say there's no shortage of support services, only a lack of coordination. To help achieve that, a private health foundation, The California Endowment pledged $300,000.

"The coordination makes it different, and we'll see if it's different. We'll see if the incarceration rates go down," said Loni Hancock (D) El Cerrito.

Those here also stressed the importance of pre-release programs in prisons where soon to be released inmates learn basic lifestyle and job skills so they'll be ready when they get out.

"The first 30 days that a parolee is back out on the streets is the critical time frame for them," said San Quentin warden Robert Ayers.

Chris Shurn is a graduate of those programs when he was in San Quentin. It gave him confidence that he would succeed in the outside world.

"So when I got out, I felt I had direction. I had a way to go," said Shurn.

Today, the 26-year-old works at Goodwill Industries while he goes to college.


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