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City programs assist parolees

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 18, 2006

City officials presented a variety of programs created to help ex-offenders re-integrate into the community to deter gang violence.

As requested by the Select Committee on Ending Gun and Gang Violence, the Office of the Public Defender and the Office of the District Attorney presented their efforts to address parolees at Monday's meeting.

Public defender Jeff Adachi said his office is interested in creating a re-entry court that specifically addresses parolees before they leave prison. The program would require parolees to meet with a caseworker every month to develop a re-entry plan before they are released from prison.

"We can't order a person when they get out of prison to go to court because they've already finished their time," Adachi said. "We need to look at the people who are getting out or who are in violation of their probation so they don't end up in prison again."

The court would be the first of its kind in California, according to Adachi. Similar courts exist in Indiana and New York. The re-entry court, including the judge, staff, defender and prosecutors, would cost the City between $200,000 to $300,000, Adachi reported.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said he appreciated Adachi's efforts and is hopeful for the possibility of the re-entry court.

"Having a one-stop shop involving service providers will allow us to get to the problem," Mirkarimi said. "It's surprising to find out what people don't know once they come out of the system."

One of the office's successful programs is the Clean Slate program, Adachi said. The program offers to take misdemeanors off the record as long as the paroles take part in rehabilitation programs. Drop-in centers are open on Tuesdays in the Bayview, Western Addition and Vistacion Valley areas. The program cleared 2,400 records last year.

"The Clean Slate program reignites people to believe in themselves," Adachi said.

The Office of the District Attorney also has an ex-offender program called Back on Track. The yearlong program targets first time drug offenders ranging from the ages of 18 to 30 who have been involved in the juvenile justice system, said Latefah Simon, director of reentry programs.

Participants receive full-time jobs through Good Will Industries and a growing number of other organizations, Simon said. The program also provides full presidential scholarships to the Academy of Art University.

Changing the Odds is another district attorney program that assists young parolees. The program is an intense training program that employs participants in local organizations such as The San Francisco Chronicle and Nordstrom.

"Our intent is for these youths to see that they can have professional careers of their own so they halt their careers in the criminal system," Simon said.

Resident Dereck Shelton said he was impressed with the growing number of programs available for parolees and looks forward to working with these organizations through his own program launching in June.

Shelton said he will be the new Director of the Crimestoppers program in San Francisco. The program will have an anonymous 24 hour tip line that allows witnesses to inform about crimes committed in the city.

"Reform starts in the community," Shelton said. "Any program that can change the lives of at least one person is a good program."




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