Parolee day reporting center planned for North Oakland
on July 8, 2010
Residents in North Oakland’s Koreatown-Northgate district may soon be getting some new neighbors—a group of men and women trying to restart their lives after spending time behind bars. Center Point, Inc., a Marin-based non-profit social services agency, is planning to open a day reporting center for parolees from Oakland on the 33rd Street block of Telegraph. The neighborhood—a mixture of small businesses, doctor’s offices, apartments and homes—has been struggling to catch up with the newly hip Temescal-Telegraph business district, and Uptown Oakland’s arts and entertainment district.
The parolee center would provide classes and case management services to around 100 parolees every day, split into morning and evening groups. Classes would include parenting, anger management and preparation for the GED (General Educational Development) test. The agency would also contract with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to prepare and send clients to work on road crews.
Individuals convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses would not be eligible to participate in the program, according to Dennis McCray, vice president of Center Point.
McCray and Christopher Geiger, a consultant to Center Point, presented the plan to local business owners and residents at a meeting held at the proposed site (3333 Telegraph) on Wednesday evening, July 7. Attendees expressed a mixture of support and apprehension, asking detailed questions about the program’s operations and how problems would be dealt with. McCray, who would likely administer the program, explained that the agency had been awarded a tentative contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to run the program, pending approval of the state budget and a conditional use permit from the City of Oakland. Center Point hopes to have the center up and running in a few months.
In the meantime, Center Point staff are trying to warm neighbors to the idea by canvassing and meeting with neighborhood organizations. “I can understand the pessimism on the part of business owners,” McCray said before the meeting. “Parolees do have a bad rap.” He said neighbors seemed generally supportive thus far, although he still anticipated concerns.
At the meeting, about 20 local residents and business owners listened warily as McCray explained the program. He stressed that the center would not be a residential one—parolees would only be there during the hours of operation, from 9 am to 7 pm during weekdays and noon to 5 pm on weekends. The program is voluntary for parolees.
“We won’t have folks who really don’t want to be there,” said McCray. He also emphasized that a parole officer would be assigned to the building during the week, and on call during the weekends.
Rehabilitation programs in the state’s correctional facilities were slashed severely last year in order to close the state’s budget gap. Adult programs—including educational, life skills and substance abuse classes—lost $250 million in funding, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Approximately 800 teachers were laid off, class time was reduced and many vocational programs were eliminated.
“They’re releasing people without having taught them basic social skills,” McCray said at the meeting.
At the same time, California faces a federal court order to reduce its prison population because of severe overcrowding. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has appealed the order, and the Supreme Court is expected to take it up this fall.
Day Reporting Centers for parolees have emerged as one way to fill the gap in services for convicted offenders and parolees.
“It’s sometimes problematic where these services are given,” McCray said early in the meeting, anticipating the tense questions to come. Attendees didn’t wait long.
“What kind of problems would you anticipate?” asked one woman tersely. “Because that’s what’s going to affect us.”
“Well, I don’t anticipate any problems,” answered McCray. The woman, who said she lived in an apartment building nearby, continued to press McCray on how staff would deal with a potential outburst by one of the center’s clients. McCray explained that four licensed counselors would be on staff at all time, plus the parole officer.
Questions continued for two hours. Residents and business owners posed concerns about clients loitering in the street (they would be prohibited from doing so, said McCray), falling back into bad habits and contributing to crime in the neighborhood (“There are plenty of opportunities for a person to stray around here,” said one man.)
“We always get this response at first,” said Geiger, the Center Point consultant, during the meeting. “Then after the first year, people either say ‘We didn’t know you were there,’ or they say things got better in the neighborhood.”
The parolee day reporting center would be Center Point’s first, though the agency runs a variety of programs for at-risk populations in California and Oklahoma. These include an adult residential treatment program in San Rafael, and treatment and education programs at San Francisco County jails. Center Point also provides correctional case management services to nine Bay Area counties.
McCray invited Koreatown-Northgate neighbors to talk with neighborhood organizations in communities where the agency has existing programs, and to visit the program in San Rafael.
By the end of the evening, meeting attendees seemed somewhat calmed. “I think what you’re doing is a really good thing,” said a young man with a goatee and wire rim glasses, as he prepared to leave. He said he lived next door and had a child on the way, so he was “a little concerned.”
“As much information as you can give us would help,” he said.
After the meeting, Darlene Drapkin, a staff member of the Koreatown-Northgate Community Benefit District, said she thought the program was “wonderful” but that more information was needed before local business owners could support it. Property owners who are part of the Community Benefit District pay into a fund for revitalizing the neighborhood and keeping it safe and clean. The district includes 281 registered businesses, according to its website.
“It’s a tough one because we need programs like this, and I don’t want to be a NIMBY,” said Drapkin.
Another meeting attendee, Lisa Lawrence, who served as the neighborhood watch captain on 33rd Street for over thirty years, expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t want to cast stones, ‘cause I’m not perfect,” she said, but added that the building needed better street lighting, and she didn’t want to see clients congregating around the door in the mornings.
McCray and Geiger, from Center Point, passed out their business cards and offered to provide any information they could to help neighbors feel comfortable about the program. They also said they’d hold another community meeting in a few weeks.
Both men are graduates of Center Point programs. McCray said 20 years ago he slept in the Grove Shafter Park, around the corner from where the new center is planned, for a year after getting out of jail. He went through a Center Point program, got his master’s degree and is now working on a PhD in educational curriculum development.
“I guess I’m trying to tell you that these programs actually work,” McCray told the neighbors.
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