LA gets chunk of $59 million federal grant to help ex-cons with jobs

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Gonzalo Lino was released after a three-year prison stint on burglary charges in April.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "All I know is that I've got a record, it's going to be hard for me to get a job."

A friend pointed him to the Youth Policy Institute, which runs educational and vocational programs for young people with criminal pasts. 

"Honestly, I never did nothing good before this," said Lino, 22, of Sylmar. "Nothing for my parents to be proud of."

Now, he's working on his high school diploma and towards becoming a carpenter--a far cry from where he might have ended up.

Every year, more than 600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons in the U.S. and 11 million cycle through local jails.

"Far too many get stuck in a cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, are re-arrest," White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz said Thursday, in a press conference announcing $59 million in grants for programs that help ex-offenders find jobs. "And one of the major road blocks that these people confront when they're returning to their communities is the barriers they face when they're looking for employment."

About $4.5 million of that pot is headed to Southern California--an area that is increasingly attractive to federal dollars.

"Part of the reason is that there's a real imperative to reduce the ranks of the incarcerated in California," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. California's prisons are under federal court order to maintain lower populations after overcrowding led to unconstitutional conditions.

The state has also enacted policies recently to reduce prison and jail time for lower level offenders.

"As a result of that imperative, there's a lot of activity in your neck of the woods," Perez said.

This particular set of grants will fund programs that help ex-offenders get their records expunged, provide vocational training, and career and educational case management.

The Youth Policy Institute is one of the grantees. As is Friends Outside in Los Angeles County, a group based in Pasadena.

Mary Weaver, its executive director, was in the middle of writing a proposal for a different grant when a reporter reached by phone in her office and hadn't yet heard the news.

"That's so exciting," she said. "You write these grants, and you just hope they come through."

Her group serves around 500 people a year with career services, depending on how many grant dollars they receive. This particular boost will help add vocational training to the service array.

Dixon Slingerland, director of the Youth Policy Institute, said the grants are a result of hard work among those who work in anti-poverty initiatives in Southern California.

"This is an area that the federal government is putting more resources into," he said, particularly now that L.A. has a "Promise Zone" in the Hollywood/Koreatown area.

"That increases our competitiveness for federal grants like the one that was awarded today," he said and ultimately, means more resources for L.A.'s poor.

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