Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson speaking about the PATH program at a community meeting last year. Photo courtesy of Rex Richardson
It’s been over eight months since the Long Beach City Council initiated a fund-finding mission to finance a pilot program that aims to provide second chances to low-level offenders through work and education diversion. Last night, the Promising Adults Tomorrow’s Hope (PATH) program received its first outside funding in the form of a $75,000 contribution from The California Endowment, which will allow the city to initiate the program.
The grant request was submitted by Pacific Gateway on behalf of the city, as it and city prosecutor's office both serve as partners in the diversion program. The gap in funding had kept the program on the shelf since last June, but the infusion from The California Endowment will commence year one of the pilot program.
“Today is really about The California Endowment really stepping up and helping fill that gap and providing much-needed resources to ensure that this is a comprehensive program that uses both workforce and education as a means for diversion,” said Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, who championed the cause last year.
PATH and its outreach efforts aim to address those 16-24 year-olds who qualify for mentoring, job placement and occupational training in lieu of criminal prosecution. Richardson based his proposal on science that suggests that youth in that age group have brains that aren’t fully formed, arguing that youthful mistakes should not create a negative lifelong ripple effect.
“Young adults make mistakes, and if not given the right opportunities, those mistakes might often lead to loss of life or the loss of livelihood,” Richardson told the Post last year. “Brain science tells us that young adults are distinctly different than adults because their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re 25. So we as a city, we should make sure that our programs and our services and our systems are developmentally appropriate and we respond to young adults in developmentally appropriate ways.”
His proposal is two-fold, both addressing a demographic whose minds may not be fully formed, but also a demographic which statistically represents the largest group in Long Beach and also the one most heavily impacted by unemployment. According to Pacific Gateway figures from 2015, that group experiences an unemployment rate that outpaces national averages across the board. In Long Beach, the unemployment figure for this age group is above 20 percent.
City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, who pushed for the diversion program alongside Richardson, said diversion not only reduces crime but also saves the taxpayers money in keeping cases out of court and people in jobs, not jails. According to his office’s website, some 5,000 qualify for diversion measures, a number that’s expected to go up with the recent passage of Proposition 47.
Although placement in PATH would be purely discretionary, as there are no set parameters for what crimes would qualify for the PATH program, it appears that a substantial number of youth stand to benefit from the beginning of the pilot program. Haubert’s office is no stranger to diversion programs, as it has assigned over 100,000 hours of community service to non-violent offenders over the past five years instead of dishing out jail sentences or fines.
Haubert said that the expansion of diversion process will make the city safer, and it’s something he embraces. His office has help expand the city’s history of innovative diversion measures over the past few years, PATH being the newest addition to his office’s tool chest.
“This is the first workforce development focused court diversion program of which we know of in the United States,” Haubert said. “So Long Beach is doing something that is creative and innovative and hopefully it becomes a pilot project that other communities can look at.”
The program, which calls for an additional $120,000 from the fiscal budget to hire a diversion coordinator in Haubert's office, will also ask the Department of Economic and Property Development for an additional $75,000, although The California Endowment's contribution is not contingent on matching funds.