Local community members will rally at noon today to protest the closing of Working Alternatives, a halfway house located at 6575 Trigo Rd. in Isla Vista.
Due to recent budget cuts, the halfway house, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, is scheduled to close Feb. 28. Working Alternatives is currently home to 11 former inmates, despite the facility’s capacity for 25-32 residents, said Chris Bickel, a UCSB graduate student who works with Working Alternatives residents. Because Working Alternatives was not fully utilizing its facilities, Bickel said the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided Feb. 16 to end its contract with the halfway house.
Coordinators estimate 200 to 300 community members — including residents of Santa Barbara and Ventura and students from Santa Barbara City College, UCSB, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Channel Islands — to attend the rally. Marcus Lego, a Working Alternatives resident, said there will be a large banner at the protest with the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ phone number in case rally attendants want to call the bureau to voice their concerns regarding the halfway house’s closing. He also said he may face jail time for speaking to the media about the need for the halfway house to remain open. He said moving to Inglewood, Calif., where he would be transferred should the house close, would force him to start over.
“I’ll lose my employment and all the connections I have made here,” Lego said. “One kid here who is 20 is going to [SBCC]; when he leaves, he has to give that up.”
Protesters are asking the Federal Bureau of Prisons to allow Working Alternatives to remain open for an additional 60 days, during which time a thorough review of the facility could be conducted. Bickel said he thinks negotiating with the bureau will be difficult.
“The Bureau of Prisons is straight out of Orwell’s 1984, so they are hard to talk to,” Bickel said.
Melinda Taylor, a resident at the halfway house, said the residents would be transferred to halfway houses in either Inglewood or Echo Park, Calif.
Bickel said the only hope Working Alternatives has is support from Lois Capps and Dianne Feinstein.
“What we need to have happen is have Dianne Feinstein and Lois Capps pressure the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” Bickel said.
Feinstein, he said, as a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary — the branch of government that oversees the Federal Bureau of Prisons — has the authority to influence the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ decision to close Working Alternatives.
“[Working Alternatives] is an institute that treats people as if they are human,” Bickel said. “Other halfway houses are run like prisons.”
After Working Alternatives closes, Bickel said there will only be two halfway houses in California from northern Los Angeles to Eureka, while there are currently 12 federal prisons within the same area.
“They have all these prisons, but they don’t have the resources to get people to stay out of prison,” he said.
While it costs the federal government approximately $30,000 per year to house a prison inmate, Lego said halfway house residents only cost the state about $24,000 per year. Bickel said 72 percent of prisoners in jail are there for nonviolent crimes, and he thinks these sentences would be more appropriately served in halfway/transition houses.
Lego said his experiences with the Federal Bureau of Prisons have generally been negative.
“Unfortunately, I have been involved with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the last 16 years,” Lego said. “I know it is basically politics. They could care less about what this halfway house does.”
Bickel said residents of Working Alternatives would not be allowed to attend the protest because they are viewed as property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.