LONG BEACH (CBS) — Jerry Umana has been a hardcore gangbanger for most of his 30 years — a leading member of one of the toughest street gangs in Long Beach — fueled by drugs, guns, and violence and in and out of prison since he reached adulthood, he now has 2 strikes.
“I have over ten felonies and they are all drug-related. Pretty much drug and a few weapons,” Umana told CBS2 Political Reporter Dave Bryan.
His mother says Umana turned to street gangs and drugs when his parents separated.
“The guys outside — on the street — they are very bad… I don’t say my son is an angel, he’s bad too,” his mother Rina said.
Now Umana is spending the first months of his parole at the Long Beach Re-Entry Center, a privately owned and operated facility where like about hundreds of other parolees, he gets substance abuse treatment, job training at a Tech school, and participates in family reunion sessions, reconciling their differences and offering support.
He’s back with his girlfriend, Imelda Felix. He says it’s made a big difference.
“Now I’ve been sober for nine months and honestly it’s the best nine months of my life,” he said.
Father and son, who have not always agreed on things over the years, hugged one another during a family reunification after his dad told him the family was there for him and he needs to change his life.
“In some way he blames us, that we didn’t give him love. But I told him, ‘you know it’s not that way.’ If an individual wants to change, they can change,” said his father, Hever Umana.
Hever says he’s strong for his son, but feels the emotion, like everyone else in the family.
Jerry Umana is the poster child for those who argue that facilities like the Long Beach Re-Entry Center and the services they offer may be the key to integrating more and more ex-cons into society without a crime explosion.
“We don’t want them going back to prison starting that entire cycle over again,” said Curtis Jones.
Jones is the program director for the Long Beach Re-Entry Center, which is operated by a company called Community Education Centers.
“We are the bridge between the incarceration back into the community,” Jones said. “We focus on two things – substance abuse and criminality because what we found out is they go hand-in-hand,” said Jones.
California Corrections officials say post-incarceration programs like this have reduced recidivism to less than 30 percent, compared to more than 66 percent for parolees who don’t participate.
LA County DA Steve Cooley agrees, but says limited programs like this will hardly stem to flow of criminals being released.
“They should be in prison – 10,000 people and they are the ones committing the crimes. The crime rate is going to go up and these programs where they do good for somebody… hey, great… but that’s not the overwhelming bulk majority of individuals,” Cooley said.
The rooms at the center are nothing special but certainly beat a jail cell.
And in the end, it won’t be able how fancy the rooms are, it’ll be the recidivism rate – how well programs, like this, can keep ex-cons from going back to prison — that will determine whether programs like this work.