Program gives Chad wards better odds for second chance

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STOCKTON – When Tarrance Turner is released from prison, he will already have real-world experience refurbishing computers.

Turner is a state ward working in a program run by Merit, a social enterprise, restoring computers and managing electronic waste at Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility southeast of Stockton.

“Here, we make minimum wage, and we pay taxes, too,” Turner, 22, addressed a group of community leaders touring the facility Thursday, organized by Helping Other People Expand (H.O.P.E.) to generate support for young inmates who are newly released from prison.

H.O.P.E. partners with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide computer training, mentoring, gang prevention, job placement and other rehabilitative services.

“Everybody wants a safer Stockton,” said Yolanda Benavides, chief operating officer of the nonprofit organization. But too often, Benavides said, parolees turn back to criminal activities out of necessity.

“We want to stop that,” she said. “And all these guys are picking up skills. They’re becoming marketable.”

Chaderjian houses wards ages 18 to 23 who have some of the most violent criminal histories. California’s juvenile facilities are court-mandated to focus efforts on rehabilitating young wards.

Like the rest of his co-workers, Turner already has earned a high school diploma and is working toward an associate’s degree at the youth corrections facility.

Turner credited his job in speaking of his readiness to transition back into society.

“You gotta have a lot of integrity to do this job,” he told the touring group, which included local elected officials. “This right here is a vehicle for us.”

The group was taken to a culinary training program and certification classrooms for computer software, forklift operation and horticulture.