Jobs not Jail

As you begin to go out of your way to be informed and question the status quo, it becomes easier and easier to identify broken and dysfunctional systems.  The problem, however, often lies in being able to come up with creative and viable solutions.  While these solutions do exist, especially on an individual level, coming up with something original and sustainable is daunting to say the least.  But fear not fellow system doubters, such things do exist!  And I am going to share a little about one of my all time favorite broken system alleviators: Homeboy Industries.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Homeboy Industries (HI) has been helping gang members and ex-convicts transform their lives through job training, employment opportunities, and supportive services for over 25 years.  Founded by Father Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries is currently the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the world.  Recognizing that 80% of the process of redirecting one’s life revolves around employment and 20% revolves around working on oneself, HI strategically meets both of these needs for their clients.  At any one time they can employ up to 200 clients in full-time jobs, while also providing the supportive services of tattoo removal, legal assistance, and substance abuse treatment.  This culturally competent program aims to change lives through jobs and education, rather than through oppression and incarceration.

Photo Source

I talked a bit about our criminal justice system in my last post, focusing on the underlying discrimination that is so evident when the statistics are examined and understood.  Now, I want to turn our focus to the inefficiency of the system.  Recidivism rates in our country are atrocious–with one study finding that over 50% of offenders were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of conditions.  This tells us one of two things:

1) our criminal justice system is either not sufficiently punitive (or people would be more inclined to not get rearrested)


2) our criminal justice system is not sufficiently rehabilitative (or people would have the tools, training, and resources to not fall victim to the system once again).


Father Greg, or G-Dog as he is lovingly called at Homeboy Industries, saw this failing system, recognized its intricacies, and did something about it.  His organization currently serves more than 10,000 former gang members each year, and has been credited with helping to curb the atrocious gang violence that ravaged Los Angeles in the 90’s.  Through helping people learn vocational skills and understand their intrinsic worth through the medium of employment, HI is saving lives, transforming generations, and healing communities.

Homeboy Industries did not eradicate gangs.  It did not solve the profound inefficiency of the criminal justice system.  But it did create sustainable change on a systemic level.  And it has brought awareness to the effectiveness of creative solutions and thinking outside the box.

It all started with one man questioning the status quo, knowing in his heart that there had to be a better way.  

So whatever that thing that is on your mind, the thing that doesn’t sit quite right, the thing that breaks your heart or keeps you up at night…Challenge it.  Question it.  Know that there is a better way and help bring that way to fruition.


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