In the spring of 1999, Captain Chuck Jackson, the commander of the Inmate Reception Center, received a phone call from the sheriff instructing him to create a program that would be a modern version of the historic chain gangs. Instead of having inmates clean up along roads and highways as they had done in chain gangs, the new program would have inmates, supervised by deputies, perform community improvement in neighborhoods. The purpose of the program was to not only improve neighborhoods, but also educate and train inmates so that once they were released from jail they would obtain jobs and not be rearrested. When Jackson received the order, he knew exactly who he would choose to supervise the program. He contacted Sergeant Scott Chew, who agreed to start and run the program. Chew was assigned to write a concept and budget memo to explain how the program would operate and how much it would cost. His memo described the new PACE Program, which consisted of three crews of in-custody inmate workers, each supervised by a deputy sheriff, providing manual labor for public service projects. Two weeks after submitting the memo, Chew was instructed to find inmates to participate in the program.
PACE IS CREATED The Prisoner Assisted Community Enhancement (PACE) Program began in May 1999, and was developed into a vocational program to educate and train inmates in a trade so that once they were released they could obtain employment in that trade. The program was funded by the Inmate Welfare Fund, which provided funds for programs that rehabilitated inmates and provided on-the-job training to prevent recidivism. Because it was an educational and vocational training program, the Inmate Welfare Fund paid for the vans, trailers, and tools and equipment needed by the inmates to clean up the communities. Some of the equipment purchased included lawn mowers, leaf blowers, rakes, shovels and weed whackers. There was no cost to the County or the cities where the work was performed. Each workday, the PACE deputies checked all of the equipment and tools into the storage room. They made sure that everything that was checked out was returned, especially any tools that could be used as weapons by inmates.
GOALS Their assignment was to complete community improvement projects. Each provided manual labor for public service projects throughout Los Angeles County. These projects included trash cleanup, graffiti abatement, landscape maintenance and support for various COPS programs (alley/street/home cleanup, abatements, etc.). The crews were available on a daily basis, Monday through Friday. If a community improvement project needed to be done but there was no money to perform the job, the PACE inmates would complete it.
The inmates cleaned up trash and garbage that was dumped onto the property. They loaded the trash into a truck provided by the city’s public works, which then took the load to the dump. The public works employee who drove the truck would oversee the work as it was being completed. When the program was first formed, inmates did not paint over graffiti. Eventually, inmates did paint over graffiti on the exterior of some homes.
INMATE QUALIFICATIONS The inmates chosen for the program were convicted of misdemeanors such as drunk driving and other traffic offenses. Inmates convicted of felonies were not allowed in this program. Also, inmates with drug convictions were not allowed in this program. The inmates who were chosen displayed the ability to do the physical work, and it was not required for them to have knowledge of how to operate the equipment prior to taking the job. All inmates were interviewed by Jail classification and a background check was conducted.
INMATE HOUSING The inmates were housed at three different custody facilities: Men’s Central Jail, Pitchess Detention Center South Facility and Tower II of Twin Towers Custody Facility. Each crew was supervised by a uniformed deputy, furnished by each of the facilities. The inmates were transported in a fully equipped, marked Sheriff’s Department 12-passenger van. A trailer with work tools and a portable toilet were towed by the van.
TRAINING The inmates were trained on how to properly operate the gardening equipment and tools by an instructor from the Hacienda/La Puente School District. This also added to the credibility of the program, since the inmates were trained by a certified teacher. The training was conducted before the inmates went out into the community. The instructor made sure that the inmates were properly trained on each tool and piece of equipment. Once an inmate was trained, they were presented with a certificate of completion.
PACE CONTRACT The PACE teams could be deployed in any area of the county or any city in Los Angeles County. The only requirement was that the city manager or a member of the City Council must sign a contract with the County for these services. During the entire time of the program, there were no major inmate injuries. Inmates only suffered minor cuts. The only damage that occurred was one time when a rock was propelled by a weed whacker, breaking a window in the van. There was no charge to cities for the cleanup service performed by the inmates.
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INMATE SECURITY Before an inmate could be taken out on the PACE crew, the deputy who supervised them obtained a jail record card with the inmate’s information and photograph. At Central Jail, the cards were left in the 6000 hospital control booth. When the inmates returned to Central Jail, each one was checked against the cards to ensure that all inmates had returned to the jail. If an inmate ever escaped, their information would be readily available.
FIRST PACE DEPUTY The first deputy hired by Chew was Deputy Al Verduzco, who was working at Men’s Central Jail at the time. Verduzco had been a coach. During his time as a coach, he watched films of NFL coaches. From these films he studied leadership. As a supervisor of the PACE inmates, Verduzco was able to utilize these skills to inspire inmates to complete a job even though the inmates were discouraged or overwhelmed.
CITY OF COMPTON The PACE Program began during a recession. Many homes in the City of Compton were abandoned. HUD was so desperate to sell the homes, they were selling for as little as $20,000 to $30,000. Gang members were taking over abandoned homes and using them to sleep in. The gangsters painted graffiti all over the interior and exterior of the homes. The trees, plants and weeds had overgrown the yards, making the neighborhoods look completely run-down. Windows were broken out of many of the homes. Homes that had been boarded up were covered with graffiti, and trash was dumped in vacant lots. This type of atmosphere attracted criminals and criminal activity. Verduzco contacted the Public Works Department from the City of Compton and coordinated with them to identify abandoned homes that the inmates could refurbish. The PACE inmates cleaned up trash that was dumped on the property, trimmed overgrown bushes and trees, and painted over graffiti. Once the PACE inmates began cleaning up neighborhoods in Compton, City Council members began providing addresses in their neighborhoods that needed cleaning up. After an abandoned house was cleaned up, the City placed a lien on the house in order to have the homeowner maintain the property. When gang members observed a uniformed deputy supervising inmates cleaning up a property, they assumed that the Sheriff’s Department owned the property, so they avoided it. The marked Sheriff’s van encouraged local residents to come by and ask what they were doing. Citizens were impressed that the Sheriff’s Department was cleaning up their community even though it wasn’t the agency providing police services to Compton. Citizens also asked how the Sheriff’s Department handled different situations. They wanted to compare the Sheriff’s Department services to those of their current Compton Police Department. At times, City Council members would stop by and ask Verduzco about how the Sheriff’s Department handled different situations. One day, the mayor of Compton came by and asked Verduzco questions about the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department took over policing Compton under a contract in the fall of 2000.
OTHER PROJECTS One time, the PACE van used by Verduzco to transport inmates to their work location was being repaired. Because of this, he was not able to transport inmates to an area that needed cleaning up. Since his work crew was housed in Central Jail, Verduzco would take them outside, where they painted the outside walls around Central Jail. They also painted “Men’s Central Jail” on the wall at the corner of the street leading to Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
At times, the PACE deputies were contacted by other units on the Department, such as Homicide, Operation Safe Streets, COPS teams and special assignment teams, to clean up areas related to their cases. Homicide detectives contacted Chew and requested a PACE crew to come out to a warehouse filled with tires. They were informed that a dead body was concealed under the tires. Verduzco’s crew moved all of the tires but did not find a body. There were other times when PACE inmates were required to provide additional workers to clean up after charity events. After working the PACE program for a year, Verduzco transferred to Inmate Reception Center.
NEIGHBORHOOD ACCEPTANCE Over the life of the program, there was only one complaint. A person who lived in the neighborhood where the PACE inmates were working complained because he didn’t want prisoners working in his neighborhood. Many citizens who lived in the neighborhoods that were being cleaned up would ask what the inmates were doing, and when they were told, the citizens were very appreciative of what was taking place. In East L.A., the citizens were so appreciative that the inmates were helping beautify their neighborhood that a few times a week the residents would bring them cold drinks and homemade tortillas.
JOB EXPERIENCE For many of the inmates, this was the first time they had a real job where they had a supervisor explain to them what they needed them to do. This was also the first time they had to go to work every day. They learned to work as a team and help each other succeed. Some of the public works personnel observed the exceptionally good workers, and after they were released from jail, some of them were hired by those cities.
INMATES’ APPRECIATION Deputy Karen Covey received letters from former inmates who had been on the PACE crew. In the letters, the former inmates thanked Covey for steering them in a new positive direction. Some of them were very artistic and had drawn pictures for the deputy. One of them sent Covey a picture she had drawn of the PACE van. Another inmate created crowns from palm tree leaves that they had removed from one of the properties. Deputy Lynda Embernate replaced Covey when she transferred from Twin Towers to patrol. While Embernate was working the PACE Program, her father passed away. She took off work for two weeks to grieve and settle family affairs. When she returned to work, some of the inmates on her work crew had created sympathy cards for her. Other inmates picked flowers at the location they were cleaning up and gave them to her. While Embernate was eating lunch with the inmates, the inmates would tell her about the difficulties they encountered growing up. One of the inmates told Embernate that her mother gave her heroin when she was just 10 years old. The girl became a heroin addict by the time she was 11. The inmates also asked her questions, such as “What is it like to be clean your entire life?” or “You never wanted to use drugs?” Many of the female inmates told details about being molested as they were growing up. This seemed to be a big factor in the direction their life took.
PACE PROGRAM DISBANDED The PACE Program no longer exists. Budget constraints halted the program in 2001. PACE’s successes and struggles are fondly remembered by those who led this unique program.