LA Times columnist Sandy Banks, whom I like personally, and whose writing I generally value and enjoy, wrote a column over the weekend that made my teeth ache.
In it she wrote of her conversation with LAPD Commander Kyle Jackson (another very decent person) about the fact that we have a hideous recidivism rate in California and that maybe in order to combat said awful revolving door rate something other than the punitive and counterproductive strategies that have characterized California prison and parole policy for the past two and a half decades might be called for.
More than 85% of the people we send to prison serve their terms and are paroled back to the streets. And more than 70% of them will return to crime and wind up behind bars again.
That makes ex-convicts the prison system’s most dangerous product.
Yeah, well, our prisons produce more badly broken people, than dangerous people. But whatever. We agree on the concept. (And lock-up certainly doesn’t make people less dangerous, that’s for damn sure.)
Sandy reported that Commander Jackson had taken over the program that the late and sorely missed Deputy Chief Kenny Garner started.
For the last six months, Jackson has headed an LAPD project aimed at revamping parole practices to cut crime and reduce recidivism. The program will combine a network of education, drug treatment and job training with psychological therapy for prisoners returning to the streets.
It was proposed last fall by Deputy Chief Kenneth Garner, who died unexpectedly last month, leaving Jackson to carry it out. More than 60 community agencies are involved. The program will be rolled out in June, with about 50 parolees in Watts.
Jackson holds degrees in public policy and criminal justice and has put them to use researching this project. “This could not only cut crime in Los Angeles,” he told me, “but help us rethink parole around the country.”
“….help us rethink parole around the country…?” Seriously? Um….you’re a little late to the party, my dears. One or two people before you have been working on the issue—screaming desperately about the issue—for the past ten or twenty years. But, y’all steadfastly refused to listen.
Okay, look. On one hand, it is wonderful that Kenny Garner started this program and that Jackson is putting it into action. (I even mentioned it glowingly in the remembrance I wrote about Chief Garner.) Both men’s hearts are/were in the right place. Kyle Jackson has a son who is locked up, so he gets it on a very personal level.
But it is just a teensy weensy bit vexing that we are nearly collapsing in awe and wonder over the news that the Los Angeles Police Department has decided to reinvent the wheel by involving 60 agencies (Sixty!!!) to serve a mere 50 guys—because some kind of critical mass on command staff finally snapped awake to the fact that wrap-around reentry programs actually…..you know….work. And that—SURPRISE!— they’re a cheaper strategy than locking people up over and over again.
I’d also be a lot happier about this if there weren’t already excellent existing programs in every major area of the city, which already provide just such services for ten times that many clients—-but are struggling to keep their doors open because the economic crisis has vaporized their funding.
But, hey, let’s allow those proven programs to go under and put a bunch of money into starting a brand new one. That can serve 50 people. Doesn’t anybody in this city leave their own fiefdoms long enough to talk to anybody else? Or is it all about who gets credit?
My friend Jorja Leap, the UCLA prof, gang violence researcher, DOJ consultant, said it better (and more calmly) than I have in her letter below.
I read your column today (“Parole reform is a tough sell” March 28, 2009) with great interest.
While I applaud the mentioned members of the LAPD Command Staff for their project and their thoughts and I appreciate the coverage that you offered, the need for therapy along with “more jobs, better education, and drug treatment” is hardly revolutionary. And it hardly originates with law enforcement.
I have been a social work professional for 31 years. What you and the LAPD Command Staff described has been a bedrock of the “Psychosocial” approach to individuals re-entering society from the parole and probation systems for even longer than my career. This approach goes back decades.
Additionally, there are community based organizations and agencies that have offered just such a comprehensive approach for decades. I can immediately name two — Homeboy Industries and the Toberman Community Center — both in Los Angeles. But keep in mind, these are but two among many in the City and County of Los Angeles along with hundreds if not thousands of such organizations and institutions across the country offering these approaches.
Finally, I find it alternately amusing and maddening that many law enforcement professionals have formerly been quick to disparage such approaches as “touchy-feely” or “going over to the dark side” until they suddenly discover their efficacy. The silver lining to all of this is that with the efforts of the LAPD Command Staff, along with other law enforcement entities, these vital programs may now receive the funding they so desperately need. At least I hope so.
Jorja Leap, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Professor
UCLA School of Public Affairs
Department of Social Welfare