Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Office of Reentry works to give second chances

Los Angeles is a city of second chances and we’ve been blessed with them from the beginning.

Eighteenth century explorers on the way to Northern California were so enthralled by the potential they saw here — while camping along the L.A. River during the journey — that they quickly returned south to help establish our city.

The great Tom Bradley was elected mayor on his second try. We’re the only American city to ever host the Summer Olympics twice.

These kinds of historic milestones have shaped our city’s history, but what about second chances for everyday people who need them today? No matter where we are in life, all of us deserve new opportunities to succeed.

Few among us need second chances more urgently than Angelenos trying to rebuild their lives after jail or prison. For the formerly incarcerated, it can be extraordinarily difficult — at best — to find steady work, a safe place to live or even a friendly ear when you have the human need to share the joys and sorrows of life.

When they are stigmatized, shut out and avoided, is it any wonder that incarceration itself has become a risk factor for future criminal activity? About seven out of 10 people who are released end up back in jail or prison within three years — which means our communities have again been victimized by crime, taxpayers continue bearing the high cost of incarceration and more human potential is wasted with about 160,000 people passing through L.A. County Jail each year.

A majority of those released from County Jail will return to the city of Los Angeles, with still more coming home from state or federal prison.

That’s why I created the Mayor’s Office of Reentry — making mine the first administration since Mayor Bradley’s to dedicate city resources to assisting this population. Through that office, we are working to bring new hope to men and women who, in a great many cases, just need someone to believe in them.

That begins with a strong leader, and this fall I named Kimberley Guillemet to manage the Office of Reentry. Not only does Kimberley possess an unwavering commitment to restorative justice, she comes to City Hall with a deep understanding of the barriers faced by people with prior convictions.

Her outlook on social justice is shaped in large part by her upbringing: Kimberley spent a significant portion of her childhood in Watts, right across the street from Nickerson Gardens, where she saw firsthand how a lack of opportunity can impact communities.

A graduate of Stanford University who holds a law degree from USC, Kimberley is an accomplished lawyer who served as a deputy attorney general — working in the Division of Recidivism Reduction and Reentry at the California Department of Justice. She is also an educator, who taught fifth grade in the L.A. Unified School District.

As an advocate, Kimberley was an Equal Justice Works fellow — directing a project to provide legal representation to at-risk, underserved youth with mental health conditions and/or behavioral challenges. If we are to succeed in supporting the formerly incarcerated, our commitment to serving them must be as collaborative, compassionate and comprehensive as her résumé.

Under Kimberley’s thoughtful leadership, the Office of Reentry has lent key support to efforts to “ban the box,” which would bar employers from inquiring about criminal history in the earliest stages of the job application process; is working with business, labor, and civic leaders to develop job training and placement programs for Angelenos with prior convictions; and begun devising a toolkit to help employers better understand how to manage and support men and women who need a second chance.

Spend just a few minutes with Kimberley and you can’t help but share her passion for helping the formerly incarcerated find stability, locate resources and secure employment.

The Office of Reentry is already working with two state government entities, along with a social enterprise organization, to create both transitional and permanent job opportunities for hundreds of formerly incarcerated individuals. Also under development is a website with direct access to reentry resources, as well as a 24-hour hotline where formerly incarcerated individuals can get round-the-clock information on available services and resources.

“Many of the people in our reentry population were born into cycles of generational criminality and poverty, or born and raised in our foster care system. No one has ever given them an opportunity,” Kimberley said recently. “I think many of us take our own support networks for granted, and don’t realize the many chances we’ve been given to redeem ourselves. We all deserve that. And as a woman of color, and native of South Los Angeles, I feel a deep-seated commitment to helping improve the criminal justice landscape of our city. We are all connected. We are all brothers and sisters. And we can all pull together to make everyone’s lives better.”

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