Good Jobs as a Violence Prevention Strategy in Oakland

December 18, 2009 -- East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable...

Despite all of the assets and opportunities in Oakland, the city of nearly a half-million people has struggled with a high rate of crime and violence. In 2008, 128

 people were victims of homicide in Oakland—affecting not only their families and communities, but the entire city. These homicides disproportionately hurt and burden African-Americans in this city, who comprise 80% of the homicide victims and 82% of the probationers, in a city that is 32% African-American. For many in this diverse city, peace in the streets is essential to recovering and rebuilding our communities.

“As my friend says, ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job,’” said Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “When we employ somebody and give somebody employable skills, we’re doing double service. The benefits of having a job far outweigh the benefits of just catching someone after they’ve committed a crime.”

EBASE’s newest report, co-published with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Urban Peace Movement, is entitled Good Jobs, Safe Streets: How Economic Recovery Can Lead to Community Safety in Oakland. The report makes the case that good jobs matter more in reducing future criminal involvement for those who are most “at-risk,” namely 1) formerly incarcerated adults: those who are on probation or parole and others who have a criminal record, and 2) “high-risk” youth and young adults: those in their mid-teens to twenties who have dropped out of high school or have come in contact with the juvenile justice system, youth who are aging out of foster care, or youth who come from households where no adults work. Studies show that jobs matter more in reducing recidivism rates and for putting “high-risk” youth on an alternate path, leading to greater success later in life.

“This study focuses primarily on workforce development and economic development as a public safety strategy,” said Nicole Lee, EBASE board member and Director of the Urban Peace Movement, who helps lead youth focus groups on jobs. “But we [also] understand that there is a continuum of strategies and interventions that we have to employ in this community in order to move people successfully…into the workforce.”

In Oakland, the scale of the problem is best understood in two layers: 8,500 adults and young people who have some criminal justice involvement—comprising the “core” need for employment interventions and connections; and a larger ring of 13,000 youth and young adults who have dropped out of high school—for whom employment opportunities could help prevent criminal involvement.

Our report is based on case studies of seven dynamic training programs in four industry sectors—green construction and recycling, general construction, logistics and warehousing, and food production. We chose the four sectors highlighted in the report for having lower barriers for our target population, as well as quality jobs and solid career ladders.

These training programs provide real employment interventions and support for our target populations. For example, classroom training paired with real-life work experience is a model element of the Bread Project, a food production training program where trainees—many of them formerly incarcerated or with high barriers to employment—make and sell their goods at the training facility’s café. Another example is that of formerly incarcerated adults who are enrolled in union construction training programs at Folsom State Prison and San Quentin Prison, and are leaving with concrete skills in a potential career ladder.

On Tuesday, October 27, a diverse group of over 50 participants, including funders, policymakers, law enforcement officers, criminal justice advocates, community organizations, and others gathered to discuss the findings of the report and concrete ways to implement the report’s recommendations.

Oakland’s specific opportunities to expand policies and fund programs that support the Good Jobs, Safe Streets model include 1) ensuring that federal Recovery Act dollars support moving formerly incarcerated adults and high-risk youth and young adults into good jobs, and 2) local efforts like the reuse of the Oakland Army Base to put thousands of Oaklanders into family-supporting jobs in the transportation, warehouse, and construction sectors. This vision for target employment interventions at the army base project will only work if the City, Port, and developer come together to ensure that Oakland residents—including those with high barriers to employment—are hired into both the construction and permanent jobs on site, and that jobs on the army base provide family-supporting wages and career ladders.