District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has established an innovative, volunteer-driven initiative to address the public safety needs of Orange County’s rapidly growing immigrant community. The outreach initiative connects more than 55 volunteer criminal justice professionals, community leaders and activists with the District Attorney’s Office in order to provide culturally relevant information and education to the immigrant community about the services available to victims and witnesses of crime.
Upon taking office in 1999, Rackauckas set out to increase communication between the District Attorney’s Office and the immigrant community. He recognized that many immigrants had difficulty understanding the criminal justice system because of language and cultural barriers.
To address these issues, Rackauckas established the Community Education Services Program. The program is currently focused on the Hispanic and Vietnamese communities, the county’s two largest and fastest growing immigrant groups. Under his leadership, bilingual Hispanic and Vietnamese outreach workers have mobilized the efforts of more than 65 volunteers who help in a variety of ways to reach out to these communities. Both the Hispanic and Vietnamese components have established volunteer advisory commissions comprised of public officials, law enforcement, attorneys, religious leaders and community activists. The 26-member Hispanic Advisory Commission and 30-member Vietnamese Advisory Commission provide invaluable assistance and direction in identifying key barriers to resident participation in and cooperation with the various arms of the criminal justice system and developing culturally responsive solutions to address those problems. Both Commissions have successfully launched bilingual media campaigns and created bilingual resource booklets to help their communities understand how to access the criminal justice system.
In addition, a volunteer outreach corps, which includes college interns, employees of the District Attorney’s Office and others, help with the program’s numerous outreach events, such as staffing outreach booths at cultural festivals, conducting criminal justice workshops and town hall meetings, and speaking to children at career days. Not only does this group do much of the “grunt work” involved with a project (e.g., publicity, staffing the booths, organizing events, etc.), but group members also have tremendous outreach capabilities through their connections to the community. Because they are immersed in their respective cultures, these volunteers help to ensure that the project is culturally relevant, credible to the community, and accepted by community leaders and elders.
The active involvement of District Attorney Rackauckas with the volunteer efforts greatly enhances the program’s credibility and effectiveness by allowing the community to be “heard.” He consistently participates in the evening meetings and weekend cultural events, such as the Cinco de Mayo Festival, Mexican Independence Day and the Vietnamese Tet Festival, that attract large immigrant populations. Most importantly, through his hands-on leadership, Rackauckas effectively communicates the message that the criminal justice system can work for everyone.