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Contra Costa community leaders halt new jail construction

Last week, religious leaders and community members from Contra Costa County convinced county Sheriff David Livingston to withdraw his proposal for constructing a new 150-bed jail.   Working in partnership with the local PICO California affiliate, CCISCO, these grassroots leaders were able to convince law enforcement stakeholders that the $6 million required for a new jail would be better spent on alternatives.  A community advisory board recommended redirecting realignment funding into rehabilitative services like job training, mental health services, and drug treatment programs.  

CCISCO leaders (Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizations) based their argument from a grassroots research project called the Safe Returns Team.  Through this project, a group of formerly incarcerated community leaders received training to conduct interviews with other formerly incarcerated individuals who had recently returned from incarceration in state prisons.  The research demonstrated that the primary drivers of high re-offending and re-arrest rates were lack of access to basic resources like stable housing, employment training and opportunities, and treatment for drug addiction.

So, how did these community leaders effectively communicate this to justice administrators?  After several months of face-to-face negotiations with individual Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) members, three busloads of community residents wearing stickers saying "Invest in People, not Prisons" arrived at the county's most recent CCP meeting.  The Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor at Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond spoke at the CCP meeting, saying, "I think ultimately the issue here is, what kind of community do we want to have? If we want a community where people can grow, be rehabilitated, welcomed back and go on to lead productive lives, incarceration does not get us there."

The Contra Costa CCP is one of the 58 county boards that are responsible for decision-making of how to spend $1.2 billion in state funding that has been "realigned" to counties.  Additionally, the CCP is charged with determining how to manage the additional responsibilities of serving lower-level offenders.   Counties have employed a wide variety of approaches with the windfall of new realignment funding; from massive jail expansions that will add decades of ongoing taxpayer costs, to innovative treatment and pretrial services that have already been proven to improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals while enhancing long-term public safety.

The role of community voice in the local CCP decision-making is critical because those communities most impacted by high rates of incarceration are completely underrepresented in the Executive Committees of each county's CCP board.  Recent efforts by policy advocates and grassroots groups to convince Governor Brown to add additional seats on the CCPs for community-based organizations, specifically those with experience in providing rehabilitative and reentry services, have been so far unsuccessful.  A recent bill from Assemblymember Fuentes seeks to add two new law enforcement members to the local CCPs, yet fails to rebalance the disparate representation between community-based leadership and law enforcement.  A statewide effort was launched last month to petition Governor Brown to veto this bill. 
Community-based organizations across the state are expressing frustration that they are not included in the CCP meetings, that their recommendations are not being considered, and that their counties are proceeding down the same reckless paths as the state.  CCISCO and PICO California have put forth a disciplined and articulate community-based leadership approach that has effectively altered the funding priorities and policies of a local CCP.  This approach is a model that other community groups could follow for exercising grassroots political power in a respectful yet firm manner.

Keywords: AB 109, Brian Heller de Leon, jails, local policy

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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