More than 100 young offenders up for parole from the California Youth Authority’s Ventura School will get special counseling in how to write a resume, how to handle an employment interview, and how to keep a job.
And most important, how to stay out of trouble.
“We provide a linkage between here and the outside,” said program administrator Lolina Talili. Most participants in the program will be from Ventura County, she said, because a county agency, the Job Training Policy Council, is paying the $370,000 cost.
All 900 wards at the Camarillo school, who come from all over the state, are offered academic and vocational courses, but most of them get no follow-up counseling or other support after they are released, Talili said.
“There are multiple barriers to employment--transportation, child care, even bare necessities such as clothing,” she said. “That’s why the recidivism rate is so high. When they leave here, they’re on their own.”
Of the 2,654 Youth Authority wards released in 1987, 56% were back in a state corrections facility within two years, according to Youth Authority records.
The program started Dec. 17 with 14 male offenders and one female, including five who are considered serious habitual offenders by the Ventura County district attorney’s office. As they are paroled, more inmates are scheduled to enter the program.
As a first step, participants evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and write a plan aimed at making themselves more marketable to prospective employers. Most already have learned vocational skills--such as sewing, landscaping, kitchen work, building maintenance or travel-agency work--but few have experienced getting and keeping a job.
“You learn how to sell yourself in an interview, how to fill out applications, what’s expected of you,” said Fred Roberts, 20, who has been a Youth Authority ward for nearly four years.
Last year, Roberts was in a similar program sponsored by Los Angeles County. A resident of South-Central Los Angeles, Roberts said he had made a lot of money selling crack cocaine but did not have much job experience.
The program “gives you an idea of what kind of fields are best for you in the long run,” Roberts said.
He decided to learn how to handle airline reservations and other travel-agency tasks. But when he came up for parole last March, the board said no.
Roberts, exhibiting no bitterness, said his parole was denied because he “got into loan-sharking” soon after he was committed to the Youth Authority. He said he and some fellow gang members would buy goods from the canteen and sell them to other wards at twice the price on a delayed-payment basis.
“I’ve always had high expectations,” said Roberts, who said he never used drugs but became addicted to the easy money he made from selling them. “The problem was finding a legal way to do it.”
He will be up for parole again in August. If his parole is granted, he will be helped to find a job through the program.
Ivan Ashford of Ventura expects to be paroled in January after four years at Youth Authority facilities. He has been studying industrial sewing for four months and expects the program to help him get a job at an Oxnard clothing manufacturer.
Ashford, 19, acknowledged that he may need help with his resume.
“I got caught embezzling on my last job,” said Ashford, who worked at a fast-food restaurant. He said he previously had been found guilty of burglary and being under the influence of drugs.
“I’ve been messing up all my life,” Ashford said. He said he expects the program to teach him “how to present myself” on the job. It will also help persuade the parole board to release him, Ashford said.
Saundra Brewer, deputy district attorney in charge of the juvenile division, said county prosecutors have doubts about the program.
“My general feeling is that only the most serious juvenile offenders are committed to the Youth Authority,” she said. “Typically, they are violent. We feel that they should remain there as long as legally possible for the protection of the community.
“Once in a while, these special programs . . . get them on parole earlier than they ought to be,” Brewer said. “These kids aren’t dumb. They’ll cooperate if it will help them get out early.”
But Maggie O’Neill, who supervises serious habitual offender programs for the Oxnard Police Department, said participation in the employment skills program has little impact on the parole board’s decision. The board also considers many other factors, such as behavior, motivation and work skills, she said.
In supporting the program, the Oxnard department has the same goals as prosecutors, she said. “We want to keep them from victimizing the community as much as they do,” O’Neill said.
Bill Hewston, chairman of the county’s Job Policy Training Council, said the agency decided to finance the program because participants came from two of the groups targeted by the federal government. The council allocates federal money to various job-training programs.
“We were looking for the severely disadvantaged, and an incarcerated group falls into that,” Hewston said. “In addition, some have the problem of English as a second language. Some don’t even have a basic primary education.”
The public, he said, “is not just wasting money having them incarcerated,” Hewston said. “They can pick up something that will help when they leave.”