Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: In L.A., second chances mean brighter futures

If there’s anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of second chances, I’d like to introduce them to Patricia Allen.

Today, Patricia is a member of Laborers’ International Union Local 300, one of the hard-working Angelenos whose excellence on the job has brought us to the halfway point on the Crenshaw-LAX light rail line just two years after construction began. She’s a single mother, and an active volunteer at the L.A. Black Worker Center, where she advocates for employment opportunities for African-Americans.

But Patricia wasn’t always in position to earn a good living and dedicate herself to activism.

“Before I was hired to work on the Crenshaw-LAX rail line, I had to rely on public assistance,” she told me on a recent morning at the South Los Angeles Worksource Center. “And as a person who has been incarcerated, I’ve experienced challenges in my life — but I don’t let that define me.”

That’s the spirit of L.A. And it’s why one of my top priorities is building policies, programs, and investments around a simple idea with enormous potential: Everyone deserves new opportunities to succeed — no matter who they are, or where life has taken them.

Few need second chances more urgently than people who have made mistakes in life, but are determined to turn their lives around after being released from prison.

These are our neighbors, our friends, and our family members. And they’re looking for someone — anyone — to believe in them. But all too often they are met by closed doors and wagging fingers when they reach for the dignity that only a job can bring.

The impact of denying people this basic building block of the good life is larger than you may think: About one in four adults in California has an arrest or conviction record. More than 45,000 people are paroled to Los Angeles County each year, with over 163,000 individuals passing through the County Jail system annually.

The majority of these individuals return to the city of Los Angeles. A recent study estimated that up to 90 percent of formerly incarcerated Californians are unemployed at any given time.

Ninety percent. How could anyone be expected to build a future when they can’t even get a paycheck to support their family?

I’m committed to changing that dynamic in Los Angeles. It’s not only the right thing to do for these individuals and their loved ones — it means safer, more stable communities for all of us. Overall, the recidivism rate in California is 65 percent, but it drops to as low as 3 percent when the formerly incarcerated are paired with jobs upon release.

At City Hall, we’re taking big steps in the right direction on this issue. I’m leading the way because when people are unable to make a fresh start, it drives up the personal, social and economic costs of our criminal justice system.

Last month, my Office of Reentry finalized a deal with the California Department of Transportation to connect 1,350 formerly  incarcerated men and women to permanent employment over the next three years. That’s an investment of close to $9 million, and it’s part of a larger movement to widen the circle of opportunity in L.A.

Over the next few years, the city is expected to bring on 5,000 new employees — and I’m determined to see to it that everyone has a fair shot at one of these good, middle-class jobs. To make that happen, I’ve signed an executive directive that instructs our departments to prioritize hiring in communities with the greatest need — like our unsheltered, the formerly incarcerated, veterans and at-risk youth.

And to make sure that L.A. continues creating opportunities, I have formed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Employment Equity — an alliance of public, private and nonprofit sector employers that have agreed to recruit from populations that are disproportionately unemployed and underemployed.

We are creating these opportunities because they go to the heart of who we are as Angelenos. We’re a people who believe in looking forward, who define people by their best selves — not by their worst choices.

Together, we’re building a Los Angeles where no one is turned away, all people have the opportunity to make a good living, and everyone’s contribution is valued in this incredible city we call home.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.