A legislative subcommittee recently released a report assessing the grim prospects for young men of color in California. The report is a result of 18 months of hearings around the state, under the leadership of Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland.
The report concludes that California must do everything it can to reduce the barriers to success for youth of color, while offering specific solutions.
Though the report focuses on young men of color, the results are particularly troubling for black and Latinos. These groups make up a disproportionate share of prisoners, school dropouts and the unemployed.
If the significance of the report were to merely inform the public that young men of color as a group were not on a path to success, the resources allocated to produce this report would have been a waste of time.
The report is daunting. It offers 65 policy solutions ranging from education, to employment, to juvenile justice, to health and beyond. But the problem is so complex, where does one start?
A great place to begin is the state's prison system, which has a budget that is outpacing higher education. That alone is a formula for dysfunction.
With 7 out of 10 inmates returning to prison within three years after they are paroled, California boasts the nation's highest recidivism rate.
But the report demonstrates that an emphasis on rehabilitation can alter this trend. Obtaining a GED and enhanced literacy have been shown to lower the recidivism rate. Education is not only the key to lowering the recidivism rate, but it is also a proactive measure. According the report, if young a men of color graduate from high school, they are less likely to be incarcerated.
What is paramount about the report, from my perspective, is that this is not a people-of-color issue; it is a state issue. We can dwell in our fears and stereotypes and bemoan this dilemma. If we do, nothing will change.
It's also important that this report not be viewed through the myopic lens that suggests this problem only affects a certain segment of the population. This is a statewide crisis.
As California ages, it will have to increasingly rely on its young workforce as its economic mainstay. Roughly 71 percent of the state's under-25 population comprises black, Latino, Asian, Native American and Pacific Islanders.
For decades we've tried reactionary policies on the cheap and they have proved to be a failure.
Moreover, this is a long-term commitment.
Whatever success is garnered from this latest report will ultimately depend on the desires of the targeted group. We can lower the recidivism rate, place more resources into health, improve education, but there must be a corresponding desire among young men of color to not participate on this dismal treadmill of self-destruction.
It would be quite easy to take one look at the list of solutions offered by the report and conclude it's too big, and California can't afford it. While that may be true, the report raises another question: Can California afford to continue the existing paradigm?
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or email@example.com.