East Palo Alto prisoner reentry program at risk of closure

Program has dramatically reduced return to crime

A landmark East Palo Alto prisoner reentry program that has kept more than 100 people from recommitting crimes is in danger of closing its doors without an immediate infusion of cash -- funding the City Council will vote on Tuesday night.

The David Lewis Community Reentry Center will have to shutter unless the City Council votes to allocate interim funding or chooses to reallocate police department funds outright, according to a staff report. The council will review these two options and a third -- to shut down the center within 30 days -- at its Tuesday meeting.

The center helps formerly incarcerated persons reintegrate into the community by providing case management and referrals to medical care, drug and alcohol treatment, job training, college and housing support and classes for job skills, among other services.

City staff have recommended approving an additional $20,460 city allocation through Sept. 30 to give center workers and San Mateo County time to negotiate a potential contract for the program to provide some reentry services for the county. The agreement would include exploring how East Palo Alto youth in the juvenile-justice system can achieve higher graduation rates through academic assessments, tutoring and mentoring.

East Palo Alto would continue to provide the facilities for the program and would share information about best practices with the county. If there is no contract with the county by the end of September, the program will be phased out.

A second scenario would have the city fund the program outright through an amendment to the recently adopted police department budget. The program would receive $171,573, enabling it to be fully operational with two full-time employees and one part-time; services would be offered five days per week.

The last option would allocate $6,820 to wind up the reentry program in 30 days.

The David Lewis program has an 8 percent rate of probationers/parolees who return to crime compared to approximately 67 percent statewide, Program Director Robert Hoover told the Weekly last year.

East Palo Alto's program is different from other reentry programs because it services are tailored to individuals, said Jim Zarate, East Palo Alto Police Department's administrative services manager.

The program involves the city's strong faith-based community and its many nonprofit programs, which understand the city's diverse cultural needs, he said. Individuals and organizations offer culturally relevant programs and mentoring, according to Zarate.

"Ours is very personalized," he said. "We are a small community. The parolees have folks in their own community that know them. In a bigger program, they get lost in the shuffle."

Since its inception in 2011, the program has served 130 formerly incarcerated clients. It currently provides services to 76 adults and 30 juveniles, according to a city staff report. The East Palo Alto Police Department previously operated a pilot reentry program from 2007 through mid-2010 with state funds.

In 2011, the City Council authorized $198,000 in Measure C funds to reestablish the program after state funding ended. That money was to serve as seed funding while the city sought alternative sources to sustain the program.

Staff sought funding from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Department of Transportation and San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. And at the beginning of fiscal year 2013-2014, council members authorized an additional $50,000 from Measure C and $58,060 from the Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Fund, a non-general fund account, to continue the program, according to the staff report.

City officials were hopeful for a grant from the state's Public Safety Realignment Act, AB109, since the act would result in increased numbers of probationers and parolees returning to East Palo Alto. Reducing criminal recidivism is one of the main goals of AB109. But in June, the Department of Corrections informed the city it would not fund the reentry program, according to the staff report. In May, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors awarded the program $35,000 to keep it running through June 30.

East Palo Alto's program is run by just three people: Robert Hoover, who has worked with the city's youth since 1963; Delores Farrell, an administrative assistant who teaches anger management and decision-making classes; and Jose Cabrera, a former gang member who is now a case manager. The program was the brainchild of the late David Lewis, a longtime community activist and former prison inmate who was killed by a mentally ill former friend in 2010.

Tuesday's City Council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 2415 University Ave., East Palo Alto. View the agenda here.

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