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Ron Kaye: Helping those trying to help themselves

January 15, 2012

Sometimes I think we care more about pets than people, which is really strange when you think about it. I’m sure that couldn’t be true of any other species on the planet.

We round up stray cats and dogs and put them in cages where we feed and care for them while arranging to find loving homes for as many as we can.

People who get in trouble with the law we lock up in cages and throw away the keys. And when we can’t afford to provide for their care any longer, we throw them back onto the streets where they are on their own to live or to die — or to continue the same criminal behavior that got them jailed in the first place.

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Some people — like my friend Nyabingi Kuti, a community organizer and activist with the MLK Coalition — think that is a crazy way to deal with the problem.

That’s especially true now when thousands of felons are being shipped from overcrowded state prisons to overcrowded county jails, or in the case of the “Nons” (non-serious, non-sexual, nonviolent offenders), getting released early onto the streets with nothing but $200 in “gate” money — if they are lucky and their paperwork doesn’t get lost.

It’s the governor’s “realignment” plan that started Oct. 1, and it has a lot of people worried that it will trigger a huge surge in crime after years of decline. After all, without effective rehabilitation programs re-entry into society is tough, which is why we have a 70% recidivism rate.

Many local politicians and law enforcement officials figure are howling for more money to hire more cops and build more county jails.

But others like Nyabingi are working hard to develop alternatives to jail and tough policing to actually turn realignment into a creative opportunity to bring resources together to help the “formerly incarcerated” — a preferred term for ex-convicts — stay out of trouble and lead productive lives.

Two dozen people with a wide range of skills and experiences in law enforcement, government, mental and physical health treatment, nonprofit charities and faith-based groups met Thursday at the Flintridge Center in Pasadena to launch the Los Angeles Reintegration Council as an organizing and coordinating tool.

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