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Yolanda Lara

photo of Yolanda Lara

Director of Inmate Programs
Dallas County Sheriff’s Department

“Growing up in Laredo, Spanish was my first language. My parents had married at 16 and really wanted their kids to get an education. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. But my parents did expect me to go to college, even though no one in the family had ever earned a college degree.

“My dad drove me to Eastfield College, which was close to home and within our budget for a working family. I walked around like a lost puppy and found the Counseling Office and then registered for classes. I started taking some business courses, and my dad drove me to class on his way to work.

“Then I found the Criminal Justice program at El Centro College and transferred there to complete my associate degree. I began riding the bus to class, and I was still able to pay for school and work and help my family out. The best part of going to El Centro was that it was such a diverse community. There were so many students with different backgrounds, which was a big plus for the kind of work I do now.

“I do a lot of mentoring for youth at my church, and I always tell these high school students that I highly recommend they start college at a Dallas County Community College. I know they’re anxious to get out of the house and out from under their parents’ rules, but so many just aren’t ready, academically or emotionally, to go to a big four-year institution.

“My Criminal Justice instructors were just so awesome. One in particular, Len Larsen, was a former police officer who provided such a reality check in our classes. He had information and experience that came from the street, not from a book, and that has helped me all through my career in probation. His face would pop up in my head when I was encountering certain behavior, and I would think, ‘That’s just what Len had said would happen!’ In this kind of job, it really helps to learn that kind of information from your instructors.”

Yolanda Lara attended Eastfield College and earned an associate degree in Criminal Justice from El Centro College in 1989 before earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Texas at Dallas. She also holds a master’s degree in professional development from Amberton University in Garland, Tx.

She has served as a Dallas County probation officer; a DISD liaison working with students and parents from other countries; an immigration information officer for Immigration and Naturalization Services; and as a forensics case worker for Mental Health and Mental Retardation, doing mini psychiatric evaluations for the state. After serving for several years as the assistant director of inmate programs for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, Yolanda was promoted to director, the first woman in the department’s history to hold the position.