By Ruth Longoria Kingsland
Community members from Duarte and its surrounding cities are working together to see that criminals released through the Governor’s State Prison Realignment Project won’t be as likely to re-offend in this area.
About 24,000 inmates, considered to be “less violent and less dangerous,” are being released statewide between October 2011 and June 30, 2012 through a program designed to decrease jail overpopulation, according to Los Angeles County Temple City Sheriff’s Capt. Christopher Nee, who presented year end crime statistics to the Duarte City Council at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
About 7,900 of those inmates are being released into Los Angeles County.
Duarte currently has 74 parolees residing within this city, Nee said.
Although Duarte’s crime statistics show a downward trend over the past five years, Nee credits community members for reporting crime and suspicious behavior, as well as deputies for pro-active diligence and enforcing laws.
Nee also is hopeful community support for the new Community Mediation Team (CMT) and its newly launched Y-Life Project will help keep those numbers down as inmates are released into the area.
“I’d be tickled pink if we could see a 100 percent success rate,” Nee said, adding, “I know that’s not realistic though.”
The Y-Life Project is a collaboration of local churches, Santa Anita Family YMCA and other members of the Community Re-entry Committee, a sub-committee of the CMT. The committee is working to develop a strategy to reach out to the men and women recently released, or who will be released, and provide community support, as well as a “Welcome Home Bag,” to include: a Wal-Mart gift card, donated by Duarte Kiwanis Club, and toiletries and blankets donated by the Doubletree and Tzu Chi Foundation in Monrovia.
“Don’t think we’re coddling them. The goal is by offering them services, they won’t reoffend in your community,” said Eduardo Cordero, a Los Angeles County gang violence department supervising deputy probation officer, and member of the committee.
In addition to coordination of efforts by CMT Chair Ulises Gutierrez and Damon Colaluca of the Santa Anita Family YMCA, the committee includes Duarte Deputy City Manager Karen Herrera and Pastor Richard Brown of Life Church of Pasadena.
Brown volunteered his services after witnessing Gutierrez and Colaluca working with youths in Monrovia. Many of the about 200 young people used to just hang around in parking lots in that area, and now are involved in positive alternative activities at the Santa Anita Family YMCA center, such as sessions in life skills, anger management, problem solving and leadership workshops.
The Y-Life Project will begin overseeing those activities in May and members plan to invite men and women who have been released from jail, as a way to help with healing and as a way to help them successfully re-enter society, Brown said.
Families of released inmates also will be welcomed to the weekly events, which will offer childcare and parenting classes, as well as a meal together.
“It’s important to get the families involved as well, since a lot of times when young people act out there are family problems that aren’t being addressed. We want to help them refocus on the important things, and faith is part of that,” Brown said.
Gutierrez and his team also are available for court appearances and to help the young men and women find jobs, an important part of being able to cope as a productive member of society.
Brown said his work through his church in recent months has allowed him to minister to inmates at various area work camps, another reason he feels his services will be useful in the Y-Life Project.
“When they come out [the released inmates] already know some of us, and so we’re not strangers, which makes it easier for them to trust and know we’re here to work with and help them,” he said.
The Y-Life Project presentation at Tuesday’s City Council meeting was well received by the Council.
“Thank you for this collaboration and for being committed to the people who need a second chance and for believing in them and teaching them life skills,” said Councilman Phil Reyes. “Without this, and if they don’t have a sustainable job, they don’t stand a chance.”