Janell Schindler, Cindy Robinson, Paula Woodward and Debbie Webb Bunker last week pass the planned site of a halfway house that they are working to prevent.

Neighbors oppose halfway house in south Sacramento

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 9:51 am

More than two dozen people told the Sacramento County Planning Commission on Monday night what they thought about a proposal to place a halfway house for federal parolees in one of the area's most troubled neighborhoods.

In a spirited hearing that continued late into the night, most argued that the facility would be a bad fit for a south Sacramento neighborhood already plagued by gun violence, illegal drugs and gang activity.

By press time, the commission had yet to vote on the proposal by Behavioral Systems Southwest, a social services company that wants to operate the "residential re-entry center" with funding from the federal government.

The commission's staff has recommended approval of the center, which would be located in crime-ridden west Lemon Hill at Martin Luther King Boulevard and 43rd Avenue.

The facility would house 50 federal parolees with backgrounds ranging from drug trafficking to bank robbery, helping them adjust to a life on the outside by providing them with counseling and job training, among other things.

At Monday's hearing, neighborhood residents argued that such a center would drag down already depressed home values, contribute to crime and impair efforts to improve the neighborhood. They talked about shootings, carjackings, burglaries, drug dealing and other issues that already plague the area, and predicted that the presence of federal parolees would further imperil citizens who live there.

"We are trying to clean up that neighborhood and give our children a safe place to be," Diana Rodriguez told the panel. Rodriguez, a member of the Sacramento City Unified School District board, described herself as "in strong opposition" to the project.

Representatives of Behavioral Systems Southwest, as well as several other commenters, said that rehabilitation facilities play a vital role in reintegrating felons back into society.

"These clients are from this community," said Richard Ertola, chief U.S. probation officer for the Eastern District of California. The halfway house, he said, would serve as a bridge between prison and neighborhoods where they ultimately will live.

Without that bridge, Ertola said, parolees will have a lesser chance of becoming solid citizens.

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