�This is something that is well-needed and will be productive and I pray that it succeeds because I don�t agree with throwing somebody away just because they�ve made a mistake when their life is just beginning.�

�Kendra Okonkwo,founder of Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists

LOS ANGELES ( ) – Thousands of men and women will have been paroled to the streets of Los Angeles by the end of the year and according to the Bureau of Justice. Almost 70 percent of them will walk right back into prison within three years due to a lack of resources and staff to help chart their progress.

The Los Angeles Police Department joined with community-based organizations at the Crenshaw Christian Center Nov. 21 to develop a plan to help keep ex-offenders out of trouble and out of prison.

The Urban Assistance Initiative is a voluntary Parolee Reentry Program and the brainchild of LAPD Deputy Chief Kenneth Garner. It is set to launch in January 2009 and parolees who enter can expect a structure that includes employment and life skills training.


They will also receive food, clothing, and immediate housing; help with education, from remedial to community college courses; substance abuse treatment; long-term psychological family counseling; and domestic violence counseling. In addition, they will receive faith-based and legal services and social skill development.

Parole officials welcomed the collaborative and believe it will help to reduce excessive caseloads. Although the average caseload should be one parole agent to seven parolees, the current average is about one to thirty. In extreme cases the caseload is one to one hundred, prison re-entry coordinators said.

“This experience of an information-sharing collaborative for parolees is uncharted waters, and there is much information to be gathered. However, it is already clear that everyone here acknowledges that there must be something that supports the need for all conditions of parole,” said Eleanor Luckett, regional re-entry coordinator for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Chief Garner, one of 23 Blacks among the LAPD’s top brass, grew up in the South L.A. neighborhood he now commands. He explained to the circle of faith-based groups, independent educators, policy organizations, parole officials, attorneys and employers that a recent drive-by attempt by a man with his six-month-old baby in the car underscores the urgent need for collaboration.

“This program is not designed for powder puffs or a lot of white-collar criminals but it is for hard core criminals, because we could fill it with white-collar offenders and have a huge success rate but the problem in our community would go unsolved. We have to develop a way to help young people stop committing these crimes and going to prison because they ultimately lose and their communities lose their potential,” Chief Garner said.

Partners in the effort include the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Los Angeles Urban League, which offers educational services; the Nation of Islam, which offers a prison reform ministry and spiritual component; Bethel AME Church, which offers food and clothing; Human Potential Consultants for housing and Bryant Temple AME Church for faith-based services.

“A re-entry program that involves law enforcement, community-based groups, civil rights organizations and that will include the Nation of Islam, would be a first step for us in Los Angeles that we could reach our hand out to our brothers and sisters that are re-entering the society and having the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad at the table gives us an opportunity to give spiritual, mental and moral guidance,” said Western Region Student Minister Tony Muhammad.

Recently, Min. Farrakhan told participants at the State of the Black World Conference, which convened in New Orleans, that it will take the unity of the Black community to put forth proper programs and an agenda to heal its wounds.

The California Department of Transportation has already committed to hire the first 20-30 parolees who enter the program for entry-level jobs under a pilot program. That will also make them eligible for job training and other civil service jobs within the Department.

“We are police and we look at this issue from a police point of view, so we need the community’s input. This is not a police program but it’s a community collaborative because we’re trying to save a potential school teacher, attorney or educator before they get to prison, and the faith-based component will be very critical,” said Commander Kyle Jackson.

Kendra Okonkwo, founder of Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists, a school for children of incarcerated parents, offered to help teach parolees how to read and rebuild culture in their families. “This is something that is well-needed and will be productive and I pray that it succeeds because I don’t agree with throwing somebody away just because they’ve made a mistake when their life is just beginning,” she said.

Maurice Muhammad of the Western Region Ministry of Defense thought the roundtable meeting was a refreshing, proactive step in the right direction. “We deal with ex-offenders, men and women, who are paroled from prisons every day and it is absolute that those in the community that work day-to-day with our people must be included in this program. This community-based approach and inclusion will make us less reactive to problems and it will also lessen opportunities for mistakes,” Maurice Muhammad said.