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Oakland PICO-CA Town Hall

CJCJ Media

Recently over 300 community members gathered in Oakland’s Imani Community Church to hear about a transformative moment in California’s criminal justice system: the passage and implementation of Proposition 47. The event was the first of four regional town halls organized by People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) – California with the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). PICO, a faith-based network of community organizations, worked successfully to help pass Prop 47 and is now focused on implementing the measure. As previously noted, the BSCC plays a key role in this process, specifically in allocating 65 percent of future cost savings the state will incur. Local and state public officials were in attendance including Alameda County Chief Probation Officer LaDonna M. Harris, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, BSCC Executive Director Kathleen Howard, a representative of Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, and others.

At the town hall, a diverse group of faith leaders and community members spoke about the promise of Prop 47and the need for continued sentencing reform. California continues to experience record drops in both juvenile and adult crime, while counties assume greater responsibility for their justice-involved populations. Amid these changes, voters approved Proposition 47, which changed certain low-level offenses, including drug possession, to misdemeanors. This sentencing reform has already impacted county jail populations and is retroactive, resulting in thousands of Californians having their records changed. The state could potentially save millions of dollars with a drop in the state prison population and the BSCC will administer 65 percent of the savings for mental health, drug treatment, and recidivism reduction programs.

Given Prop 47 and other state funds, PICO leaders recommend that the BSCC use grants to support community-based services rather than building new detention facilities. BSCC Executive Director Kathleen Howard thanked those who attended for sharing their personal stories, and she highlighted the importance of community engagement. The BSCC and staff are to be commended for their participation at these town halls.

PICO and community members also requested that BSCC committees include a greater proportion of advocates, services providers, and community-based organizations. These committees have a lot of responsibility, such as implementing policy, drafting grant applications, and making funding recommendations. Given their wide-ranging authority, it is imperative that they include representatives from communities most impacted by their decisions.

Faith leaders and community members alike spoke of the need for greater community participation at the BSCC and increased funding support for community-based programs that provide services for employment, drug treatment, and mental health. 

The town hall proved a big success for PICO, given the strong attendance and vibrant energy. Moreover, the BSCC and other invited guests articulated the importance of dialogue with community-based organizations and made a commitment to a future partnership. The event was an important step, albeit an initial one. PICO is planning three more town halls to take place in the near future in Fresno (March 26), Los Angeles (April 29), and Sacramento (May 19). Public attendance is strongly encouraged. To learn more, please contact PICO-California’s Director of Organizing Adam Kruggel.