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Pastors Blast San Bernardino County's Prison Plan

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By Chris Levister –

San Bernardino County has received $27 million from the state to deal with the influx of inmates coming their way because of prison realignment, but it seems churches typically the first responders for ex-offenders seeking redemption for their past transgressions are being asked to do more with less, as most of the funding is going to law enforcement.

Out of that $27 million roughly $300,000 (approximately 1.1 percent) will be going to faith and community based organizations.

“What they’re saying is corrections and law enforcement who has demonstrated stunning failure in the run up to the prison overcrowding fiasco will do the dining while churches operating in the trenches do the cooking and waiting tables.”

That’s Pastor Owusu Hodari, Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee for Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches (IECAAC) following a discussion on San Bernardino County’s prison realignment plan last week.

“The county’s actions are not only disingenuous but deeply insulting.” In light of that says Hodari, IECAAC it will develop its own community transition plan.

Hodari was among spiritual leaders from 15 faith-based organizations gathered at Inghram Community Center in San Bernardino for an update from county officials on transferring parolees to local control.

Like it or not, realignment is here, said Hodari. “But instead of reaching out to the first responders who are being asked to do the heavy lifting, the county has chosen to line the coffers of law enforcement under the guise of supporting evidence- based programs as a means to cut recidivism and help realignment work.”

Several pastors expressed anger and frustration following the county hosted forum calling the discussion undemocratic and labeling the local transition plan misguided and influenced by “media inflated” criticism from state, county and top law enforcement officials.

“Everyday there’s a fresh news headline or media ad warning of dangerous killers being released on the streets,” said Hodari referring to an Assembly GOP video dogging Brown and Democrats over the realignment plan.

The video features inmates in orange jumpsuits trudging across the screen against an ominous soundtrack. In it Gov. Jerry Brown appears in hazy black-and-white footage. Later, a tattooed skinhead and some shirtless thugs loom.

“Every citizen should be pre-occupied with their personal safety and the safety of their family members,” warns Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, RGerber, advising people to lock their doors and keep a watchful eye around cars, garages, even barns.

The county’s top prosecutor, District At torney Michael Ramos has compared the release of thousands of prisoners to an impending train wreck.

“Allowing the press and these naysayers to pump up the fear factor only legitimizes law enforcement’s ability to demand funds be used not to rehabilitate, create jobs, and other critical re-entry services, but to track and control low risk non-violent offenders,” said Hodari. “This is just plain deceitful,” Hodari said.

Michelle Scray, the county’s chief probation officer told pastors during the forum that the county grapples with monitoring roughly 6,500 parolees expected to be released over the next three years.

“With only $27 million available for this fiscal year and future funding uncertain there just is not enough money to go around.”

“Once again African American and Hispanic faith communities who can play a unique role in healing individuals, families and communities devastated by crime and cycles of incarceration, are being kicked to the curb,” said a pastor contacted after the forum who asked not to be identified.

Scray told participants a series of forums with the faithbased community will be scheduled in the spring after the county opens day-reporting centers in San Bernardino, West Valley and Victorville.

Churches have been hit the hardest by the recession but are being tasked with maintaining the same level of service with far less, The Rev. Samuel Casey, execut ive director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement told Board of Supervisors Chairman Josie Gonzales. “We’re getting compassionately fatigued.”

Casey who called Brown’s realignment plan a “manmade disaster” and others in attendance expressed frustration with county procedure during the forum which only addressed prewritten questions from participants.

“This was essentially a one sided discussion,” said Hodari.

“Not only have faith-based organizations been frozen out of the funding, they’ve exempted us from the discussion and planning table,” he said.

Facing a federal order to relieve prison overcrowding, California began directing new inmates and parolees to counties as part of the budget deal enacted by Gov. Brown and Democratic lawmakers. The plan excludes those who commit sex crimes and violent acts, but critics suggest it still allows dangerous offenders to avoid prison time.

In May a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering massive inmate release to relieve California’s crowded prisons, said persistent crowding had caused "needless suffering and death" and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

According to California Correction’s statistics an overwhelming majority of parolees being released to local control are black and brown. U.S.

Justice Department statistics indicate the nation’s incarceration rate has had a devastating effect on minority communities.

African-Americans, who make up one-eighth of the U.S. population, now make up about 40 percent of those in prison.

Statistics published by the Pew Center on the States, show one in nine Black men between the ages of 20-34 is incarcerated compared to one in 30 other men of the same age. Like the overall adult ratio, one in 100 Black women in their mid-tolate 30s is imprisoned.

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