PODCAST: Forum focuses on prisoners re-entering society
September 20, 2007 9:51 PM
An assortment of politicians, police officers, and prisoner-turned-activists gathered in Jack Adams Hall to discuss an effective approach to incorporating former prisoners back into San Franciscan society Wednesday.
During the first panel, San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi expressed frustration with the current rate of recidivism (people repeatedly returning to jail or prison). He urged the city’s policy makers not to wait for the federal or state government to address this problem.
“Why can’t we do better and where the hell is this money going?” asked Mirkarimi, after stating only 1 out of 10 parolees gets the services needed for rehabilitation.
“It’s time we start a re-entry council,” he concluded.
District Attorney Kamala Harris emphasized the importance of preventing crime and working with prisoners as soon as possible, instead of just enforcing more drastic punishments.
“This is simply the smart way to create safe streets,” said Harris.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi highlighted a successful city program, the Clean Slate Program. According to Adachi, the program was established in 1998 and it was underused because convicts had to track down their district attorneys to finish the needed paperwork. Since a drop-in version of Clean Slate was opened last year, the number of people who cleared their records increased by 24 times the number in 1998.
“If we are truly serious about making change, we are the ones who, at least, have to lead that movement,” said Adachi.
Deputy Patrick Boyd stated the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations needed more probation services, and all the departments needed to show even more collaboration.
“(Incarcerated people) come out with high hopes and high expectations,” said Boyd.
Senior Deputy Ronald Terry and former prisoner Billy Booker explained the importance of programs like No Violence Alliance (NoVA). NoVA uses the efforts of both law enforcement officers and community activists to provide services that rehabilitate violent offenders.
Booker, who has completed NoVA, said that listening to people who were traumatized by violent crimes made him realize how robbing people affected them.
Another idea that was only briefly mentioned, was the abolition of the prison system. Eddy Zheng, who just completed a 21-year sentence, said reentry services were a start, but were only working within the system.
Jason Bell, an SF State grad student and the director Project Rebound, touched on the importance of education for formerly incarcerated people. Project Rebound, a program funded by Associated Students, assesses inmates for college readiness upon their release. Bell said that prisoners from all over California and even the country send in applications in hopes of attending college.
“Being in an institution, you’re pretty much stagnated,” said Bell, explaining the hunger to learn and progress.
Luis J. Rodriguez, an author, mentor to prisoners, and former gang member, spoke passionately about reaching out to youth committing crimes. He shared his experience with teaching poetry to prisoners.
“If you got the right people, you can change those kids’ lives,” said Rodriguez, who had to pause countless times during his speech as the audience exploded into cheers.
“A word can save someone’s life,” he said.
He also spoke about a recent plan for peace on Los Angeles streets he helped author. While law enforcement plays an important role in helping reduce gangs, Rodriguez said the effort must be lead by the community and come from everyone in the community. He declared even gang members could contribute to making the streets peaceful.
“When you squeeze communities, you don’t get to the root of the problem,” said Rodriguez.
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