Fact Check

California Government Pays for Criminals to Take Vacations?

A pilot program intended to reduce violence in the city of Richmond, California, gives young people stipends if they keep their commitments to the operation.

Published Aug 24, 2016

 (Gerd Altmann)
Image Via Gerd Altmann
The state of California pays criminals not to kill and sends them on free vacations.
What's True

The city of Richmond, California has been piloting a program that pairs at-risk teens with mentors and pays them stipends if they succeed at keeping their commitments.

What's False

The state of California does not pay criminals money, nor does it pay for them to go on vacation.

Rumors abounded in August 2016 that California was paying "criminals" to not commit crimes and then sending them on paid vacations, sparking the usual outrage.

The city of Richmond, California piloted a program starting in 2010, known as Operation Peacemaker, with the stated goal of bringing down gun violence. Young people considered at risk to commit crimes are tapped to participate in a fellowship program, where after six months they can earn a stipend if they succeed.

City officials credit the program with bringing homicides down to 11 in 2014 —the lowest it has been in decades.

The program's founder and then-director, Devon Boggan, wrote about the concept in a 4 July 2015 editorial for the New York Times. He knew it would be controversial from the beginning:

A police liaison officer told us this startling fact: An estimated 70 percent of shootings and homicides in Richmond in 2009 were caused by just 17 individuals, primarily African-American and Hispanic-American men between the ages of 16 and 25...

The deal we offered was this: If they kept their commitment to us for six months — attended meetings, stayed out of trouble, responded to our mentoring — they became eligible to earn up to $1,000 a month for a maximum of nine months.

In a March 2016 article for the Washington Post, Boggan told the publication that money was set aside for each fellow to travel — but the catch was, they had to travel with someone who they had tried to kill or who had attempted to kill them. The point, Boggan told the Post, was for the youngsters to realize, "Hey, this cat’s just like me."

The Bay Area city, with a population of just over 100,000, boasts a 61 percent reduction in homicides since 2007. That year, the city hit a high with 47 homicides, or roughly eight times the national average.

In May 2016, Washington, D.C. abandoned a similar program due to lack of funding.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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