The Sacramento City Council approved a controversial service and counseling center for former federal inmates in south Sacramento on Tuesday, denying appeals from residents who said the facility would threaten the safety of nearby neighborhoods and hinder development in an economically depressed area.
While some residents questioned why the facility was being placed in south Sacramento – and not a more affluent section of the city – council members said the center would provide a valuable service to former inmates and downplayed its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
“This is something that’s needed,” said Councilman Larry Carr, who represents most of the neighborhoods near the Franklin Boulevard business park where the facility will be located.
“We need to take care of folks in Sacramento and help them get on the right path,” added Councilman Jay Schenirer, whose district covers the stretch of Franklin Boulevard, near Florin Road, where the center will operate.
The city Planning Commission voted 10-2 in December to approve a conditional use permit for a center operated by GEO Reentry Services. But that approval was appealed one week later, forcing a vote of the City Council.
Effie Gant, a south Sacramento resident who filed the appeal, told the City Council that some of the neighborhoods near the proposed facility “are low-income with families in distress because of the lack of positive opportunities of education, healthy jobs and housing.” She also expressed concerns that those receiving services at the facility would pose a public safety threat to residents and students at nearby schools.
“We make this appeal to you to consider, as our city officials, the effects that will happen if this permit is passed to operate so close to our schools and our communities,” Gant told the council.
Supporters of the reporting center outnumbered opponents at the City Council hearing by a 2-to-1 margin. Several speakers wore stickers that read, “I support second chances” and spoke about their own experiences in a GEO reentry program.
Rachel Kienzler, the western region business development director for GEO, said inmates at the facility are nearing the end of their sentences and “this is an opportunity for them to say, ‘OK, I’ve proven I can be compliant (with the terms of their sentences) and now I just need the extra tools for me to be successful.’ ” She said program participants are in Sacramento because this was their “community of origin” before they were arrested.
She added GEO prohibits those using the facility from loitering near the building and that the company is “committed to being a good neighbor.”
“The goal here is for those that are nonviolent, non-serious offenders to be able to be released back into their communities and their families,” Kienzler said. Still, she added GEO cannot prohibit inmates sentenced for specific crimes – including sex offenses from receiving services at the facility.
The GEO center will offer job training, behavioral therapy and family reintegration for up to 30 former federal inmates at a time. The facility also will perform drug tests, fingerprinting and DNA collection from some offenders, according to a city staff report.
Without a comparable facility in Sacramento, former inmates seeking those services now must travel to Fresno, San Francisco or Oakland.
The center will open in a business park set off Franklin Boulevard. A chiropractic office, an insurance company, a real estate office and several other businesses are in the complex.
Charles Hughes said he is participating in a GEO facility in Napa after being “in and out of jail for the last seven years.” He said he had struggled to “break free of drugs,” but has now been drug-free for a year.
“I have committed myself to change with the full support of the staff (at GEO),” he told the City Council. “I have learned to change my way of thinking. This has taught me a new way of life.”