The 4th annual meeting of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network was honored by a very special keynote address by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder. His address to a room full of city leaders, community activists, police chiefs, and members from the research and prevention fields touched on the widespread problem of youth exposed to violence and the importance of families and communities in improving outcomes for youth. He stressed that law enforcement cannot do the job alone and praised the Network for its diverse partnerships and collaborative efforts, especially in the face of budget shortfalls. He remarked that the Network had made great progress in its three years, noting the declines in violence in many of the participating cities.

Attorney General Holder stressed that the organizations and cities represented in the room will find a willing partner in both the White House and the Department of Justice, as evidenced by a $12 million request in the President’s 2011 budget. He expressed an understanding of the breadth and depth of the problems we face and a firm belief that solutions are well within reach.

The Attorney General concluded his visit by entertaining questions from the Network members, which touched on need for flexibility in funding and the ability to blend different funding sources. Attorney General Holder responded favorably, stating that Washington is a partner willing to listen and learn.

The transcript of the Attorney General’s address can be found here.

The 4th annual meeting of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network took place May 10-11, 2010 in Sacramento at the Embassy Suites Riverfront. The convening of city leaders, police chiefs, community activists, as well as those from the research and prevention fields represents a state-wide collaborative effort to fight gang violence. The 13 network cities include: Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton. Representatives from The California Wellness Foundation, The California Endowment, and Kaiser Permanente were also in attendance.

The 2-day meeting consisted of 5 panels and a special keynote address from the US Attorney General Eric Holder. Panels covered topics on public health, law enforcement and prevention, reentry from the state and local level, employment for at-risk youth, and engaging the community in strategic plans. Panelists were represented by individuals working at all levels of gang violence prevention, including police chiefs, a school superintendent, Secretary of the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and community leaders.

A major issue that emerged from the conference was cities’ increasing need to address the problems of reentry. With the state corrections’ budget cuts, many cities are now facing the return of more parolees. Secretary Cate expressed the state’s position clearly: “We never have and never will have all the necessary resources to meet all the needs of the reentry population.” City-state collaboration will be key in addressing the needs of this vulnerable population. San Bernardino’s pro-active efforts have included the CREST (Community Reentry Education/Employment Service and Training) Center. Crest is an evidence-based collaboration of different agencies and organizations that provide services to the reentry population. CREST service providers cost half the amount of reincarceration. Other collaborative efforts could include cities working with organizations such as the Conservation Corps. At least two of the 13 cities have active Conservation Corps in their region, including Sacramento and Los Angeles, the largest Corps in California. The Corps is a non-profit organization that provides education and workforce development to those who wouldn’t typically succeed in traditional settings. Other opportunities for the reentry population include employment with organizations like Growth Sector which provides training for specific industries. Alternative programs like these are great opportunities for cities and counties trying to reintegrate former offenders back into society.

Moreover, cities expressed an interest in expanding the Network’s focus to also include representatives from the reentry field. Many cities, including San Francisco and San Diego, have some form of Reentry Council, or city/county-wide collaboration of different stakeholders in reentry (e.g., police, probation, DA, public defender, parole, community organizations, housing authority, child welfare, public health, mental health, workforce development). Including representatives from Reentry Councils on city teams could help to expand the Network’s reach in the field and improve upon peer-learning as it opens up the field to our teams.

Many of the cities have done amazing work in the past 4 years since the Network’s inception. Lynn Sharpe-Underwood discussed how much the Network helped her when she began her role as Director of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention. Georgina Mendoza talked about the partnership between the cities of Salinas and San Jose, with the latter guiding the former to establish a plan against gang violence. Many cities have indeed met the target goals they established at the outset, but as the political and economic landscape continues to change, cities are finding the need to set different goals and targets, such as those pertaining to reentry. The cities’ work will persist and with that in mind, we look forward to another year of collaboration!