| Youth groups take a look behind bars at Santa Rita
One Saturday a month, groups of about 15 young people, ages 10 to 18, go on a field trip to a place organizers hope they'll never return.
Since September, the Santa Rita Jail Youth Education Program — SRJ YEP is its acronym — has brought young people face to face with the consequences of making a wrong turn.
Dionne Cola, a longtime mentor to youth at St. Benedict Parish in Oakland, has brought a group of young people and their parents on the tour designed to help "young men and women make the decision to not enter a criminal lifestyle, and to become a productive citizen."
The tour, which lasts four hours, shows intake procedures, and young people get a look at how and what inmates eat, how they are housed, and how they are controlled.
The tour group eats lunch — not jail food — in a staff dining room.
"At the end of the tour, six inmates from the jail — three women, three men — share how they got there," Cola said. Then they take questions.
"They can ask any questions," Cola said. "The inmates are truthful, up front with them:
This is not the place you want to be. You need to stay in school. Listen to your parents. Not do drugs. Not follow the wrong crowd."
Cola said she will return with another group after receiving positive reaction from the first tour.
Cola, who has worked for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office for 31 years, said mentoring youth is important.
Sgt. Mike Carroll of the Alameda County Sherriff's Office, is in charge of the street crimes unit in Eden Township. He is among the law enforcement officers behind the Youth Education Program.
Other groups of youths who would like to join a tour are welcome to contact Sgt. Carroll at 510-225-5944.