California city is paying would-be criminals for good behaviour

Richmond’s 'Operation Peacemaker' programme offers life skills training, therapy, and even cash rewards and trips abroad

Rachael Revesz
New York
Wednesday 24 August 2016 19:35 BST
So far 82 men have engaged with the fellowship program
So far 82 men have engaged with the fellowship program (PA)

Behave well, do not fire a gun and you might just land yourself a cash reward and holidays abroad.

That is the premise behind the Advance Peace non-profit organisation in Richmond, California, which was once described as one of the most dangerous cities in America.

The Operation Peacemaker programme aims to help convicted as well as potential felons to stay out of the justice system and to get into work, but has drawn criticism from those who believe rewards should go to victims of crime.

The San Francisco suburb has so far worked with 82 men through an 18-month fellowship, which involves employing convicted felons to scout troubled youths, who have avoided jail due to lack of evidence, and promise them money and holidays if they behave well.

Those with a criminal record working on the programme can earn up to $1,000 per month if they are successful with their protégées, who are taught how to write a CV, fill out tax forms and apply for work.

Programme director DeVone Boggan, who recently stepped down from his position at the Richmond Office of Neighbourhood Services where he started the program to start the non-profit, told Fox News that the most effective way to end gun violence was to engage with people every day.

Mr Boggan told CBS news that he and his team came up with a list of 28 people who were responsible for almost three quarters of the city’s gun crime.

“Our point is to connect with that young man in a very human way, to change that mindset that gives rise to destructive behaviour,” he said.

“Services don't stop bullets, but relationships can, and relationships do.”

But Lorrain Taylor, whose twin sons were shot in the neighbouring city of Oakland when they were 22 years old, said the potential criminals were being rewarded for keeping a “promise”, and the programme required trust from local people.

“If I were to find out that the guy who murdered my twin sons was getting a thousand dollars for a promise? I mean, how can you trust? ... I mean, if they kill somebody, they will lie,” she said.

The cash rewards come from private donations, and acts like an allowance, while the operational costs are funded by taxpayers.

Participants on the program are also offered life skills training and therapy.

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