By now, most of us are familiar with the adage that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” But that is easier said than done, and as deadly gun violence escalates in our community, it is more important than ever to make sure this is done effectively.

I am hopeful that my proposal for the newly-established Office of Racial Equity to develop employment services for the recently incarcerated (known as “adult reentry”) and a Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program can lay the groundwork for achieving this goal. As I pursued funding and subject matter expertise to launch a Berkeley Ceasefire program last year, these services stuck out to me as potential game-changers for restorative justice based on promising success stories in Oakland and Stockton. In Alameda County, the Board of Supervisors updated the Adult Reentry Strategic Plan in 2019, establishing new performance metrics for reentry services run by the county’s Probation Department. In 2021, an independent report on the county’s Criminal Justice Realignment programs found that “service provision does seem to effectively reduce recidivism, and it appears service expansion could reduce recidivism rates among Alameda County’s probation population moving forward.”

I believe that funding and sustaining these programs at the city level, in partnership with county and state services, will be essential for fulfilling Berkeley’s promise to Reimagine Public Safety. Indeed, the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) recommended a city employment program in Berkeley to reduce recidivism using Criminal Justice Realignment funding. Our all-volunteer Reimagining Public Safety Task Force noted in their supplemental report that any such program “should have the goal of being transformative.” In Chicago, the nonprofit-led Green ReEntry program offers such a model by providing vocational training and employment opportunities for the recently incarcerated in the construction trades. At a time when the global climate crisis will necessitate building retrofits and electrification on an unprecedented scale to decarbonize our economy, I can hardly imagine a better way to make both our planet and society more sustainable.

However, these are long-term strategies for systemic improvements. At the margins, we still need to ensure that individuals do not slip through the cracks, as can often happen, for example, when a recently incarcerated individual cannot hold onto a job because of housing instability. In the short term, we have one effective antidote: cash. In 2019, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), a pilot program providing $500 per month for two years to randomly-selected residents in low-income neighborhoods. After one year, recipients reported improved mental health, financial stability and employment opportunities. 

When stability and opportunities are scarce, crime is too often the easy way out. Thus, any cash assistance program should be even easier to obtain–unrestricted, unconditional, and with a low barrier to entry. The Compton Pledge pilot program, for example, enrolled 800 qualifying participants with a quick application process and enabled payments via Venmo, check or prepaid debit card. 

Reparative justice is inherently a racial justice issue, so a city like Berkeley that prides itself on progressive activism must be a leader on this front. When my ancestors first came to this country in chains over 400 years ago, their forced labor was exploited for centuries without a penny in compensation. Though nominally free citizens, my grandparents arrived in California during the Great Migration to find they were only allowed to buy housing in disinvested neighborhoods with higher interest rates, at a time when the government was investing in the growth of a segregated middle class through homeownership. To this day, Black people in the United States routinely face discrimination in employment opportunities, education and predatory lending. During recent recessions, Black communities have often been the hardest hit and the last to see an economic recovery. While reparative justice policies can often be described as transformative or paradigm-shifting, I tend to think they’re just basic common sense and good governance. After all, how realistic is it to expect a guarantee of public safety when we haven’t repaired the harms and generational trauma that still afflicts so many in our community today?

This is the bare minimum we can do to truly prevent and heal from violence, and we won’t stop there. Please consider supporting this item by writing to the full City Council.

Terry Taplin is the city of Berkeley’s District 2 City Councilmember.