Bloomberg Takes on Racial Divide; Gives $30M to Men's Program

New program aims to even the odds for ex-offenders.

By Melissa Russo
|  Friday, Aug 5, 2011  |  Updated 12:01 PM EDT
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New York City is taking steps to hire ex-convicts.  Not because there's a shortage of well qualified candidates. It's part of a sweeping social policy plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lift the barriers facing young black and Latino men. Melissa Russo reports.

New York City is taking steps to hire ex-convicts. Not because there's a shortage of well qualified candidates. It's part of a sweeping social policy plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lift the barriers facing young black and Latino men. Melissa Russo reports.

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New York City is taking steps to hire ex-convicts as part of a sweeping social policy plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lift the barriers facing young black and Latino men. 

An investigation into racial disparities in New York City yielded disturbing numbers.  Black and Latino men were out of work, dropping out of school and living in poverty at rates dramatically higher than their white and Asian peers. Plus, 90 percent of the city’s inmates and murder victims are black and Latino. 

With odds like these, it’s no wonder 15-year-old Malik Campbell feels discouraged about his future. 

“The chances of me being successful is low,” Campbell said in Harlem Wednesday afternoon after hearing about the new Bloomberg plan, called the Young Men’s Initiative.  
 
Bloomberg is looking to change policies like the one that automatically blocks ex-convicts from consideration for city jobs.

“There are a lot of convicted felons in this city,” said Vince Schiraldi, New York City probation commissioner.  “We don’t want them all to be unemployable because they’re going to keep getting in trouble.”

Asked about potential backlash from job seekers who do not have criminal convictions, Schiraldi said: “We’re not trying to put our people on the head of the line. We’re just trying to put people on the line.”

The plan makes fiscal sense, according to Schiraldi, who points out that incarcerating one young man costs $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but prevention costs only $5,000 to $8,000 a year.
 
Bloomberg announced the three-year $127 million initiative Thursday. Some $30 million will come from Bloomberg’s foundation, another $30 million will come from George Soros’s foundation and the remaining $67.5 million will be funded by city taxpayers. Bloomberg aides say the investment will cut costs down the road. 

Many of the programs are aimed at helping young black and Latino men find jobs.  They involve mentors, paid internships, assistance with getting ID cards and “cleaning the rap sheets” of young offenders to remove old arrests. 

In schools, the goal is to reduce suspensions of students, and redouble efforts to close the academic achievement gap facing black and Latino boys.

"Young black and Latino boys are not doing well enough in our city,” Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs tells NBC New York. “They’re not doing as well as the girls, and they’re not doing as well as their white peers. And we really need to point that out if we intend to make a difference.”
    
Sources say Bloomberg will hold monthly accountability meetings with more than a dozen city agencies to track progress of young black and Latino men.
 

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