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No New Jail Funding

Eleven arguments for voting against $318 million for the the Santa Rita Jail and investing in community-based mental health programs

Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting - Tuesday, May 12, 1:30 p.m. 

The proposal for $106 million/year in additional jail funding is the only item (#72) on the agenda for the Supervisors' 1:30 pm meeting on May 12. More information, social media memes, and resources are also available from our partners at Ella Baker Center. Instructions for offering public comment are here and at the bottom of this page.

Here are ten reasons why the Board of Supervisors should say no to this request. Cite one, two or more of these in your comment to Supervisors. Fuller description of each reason follows below.

1. The Sheriff’s Office already has many funded positions that it has not filled. The Board of Supervisors should not spend new funds when ACSO does not use existing funds to fill vacant positions, deploys deputies assigned to the jail elsewhere, and is paying excessive numbers of jail staff on extended leave.

2. Jail harms mental health and does not address those with serious mental health needs.

3. Every County agency will need more funds to meet pressing needs this year, with fewer revenues. State and federal aid will be insufficient. The Supervisors must prioritize meeting urgent and massive needs. 

4. A department with persistent civil rights abuses and indifference to reform should not be rewarded with more resources.

5. Alameda County can sustain and expand reductions made to the jail population without compromising public safety.

6. The County's jail population should be reduced through diversion to community-based programs.

7. In-jail treatment of mental health patients is financially expensive. 

8. Strategies and programs to reduce the number of seriously mentally ill people in jail chronically lack resources. We should invest in those.

9. Using community mental health services and closing prisons will lead to substantial savings.

10. Eighty-five percent of those jailed in Santa Rita are awaiting trial - one of the highest rates in the state. Administrative reforms, including reducing court continuances for pre-trial prisoners in Santa Rita, will reduce the jail population. 

11. Alameda County has a legal obligation to provide mental health care in the least restrictive setting, and is being investigated for its failure to do so.

Background

On March 20, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) and Health Services Agency submitted a surprise proposal to add $85 million a year for three years to hire hundreds of new sheriff deputies and other staff at Santa Rita Jail (SRJ). On April 24, the Sheriff increased the proposal to $106 million a year for 456 new staff for the jail - 349 for the Sheriff's Office and 107 for Behavioral Health staff. (ACSO currently has 615 funded jail staff positions.)

In 2018, the law firm Rosen Bien sued Alameda County because of poor mental health care in the jail, including excessive use of isolation and lack of out-of-cell time, known as the Babu lawsuit. On April 22, reports by four analysts of jail conditions were released, including a preliminary analysis of SRJ staffing by Sabot Associates. The lawsuit is not scheduled for a trial until January 2021. 

1. The Sheriff’s Office already has many funded positions that it is not filling. The Board of Supervisors should not spend new funds when ACSO does not use existing funds to fill vacant positions, deploys deputies assigned to the jail elsewhere, and is paying excessive numbers of jail deputies on extended leave.

The Sheriff's Office (ACSO) has 155 funded jail positions for staff that are not at the Santa Rita Jail, according to the Sabot jail staff analysis taken earlier this month. 52 of these were funded vacancies, 20 were on loan from the jail to other ACSO divisions, while another 68 were on extended leave. (Sabot report, Exhibit 7 and p. 11) This has led to very expensive mandatory overtime at the jail, yet the sheriff's funding proposal was made as if all these 155 positions were not already in the County budget.
Despite significant salary and benefit packages, ACSO has not been able to retain staff. Many are leaving for other law enforcement agencies, suggesting problems within the department.

2. Every County agency will need more funds to meet pressing needs this year, with fewer revenues. State and federal aid will be insufficient. The Supervisors must prioritize meeting urgent and massive needs.

According to Board President Richard Valle, a budget hearing on April 30 projected a $71.2 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, even before considering that jail funding proposal - a deficit that cannot be made up from the County's reserves. Alameda County does not have the proposed funds.

Economists say the downturn will be greater than any since the Great Depression. During County budget presentations to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, all agencies recounted unprecedented needs for assistance. Companies have reported more than 5,300 employees laid off in the County just through April 14, excluding informal workers. Thousands of residents were already vulnerable to economic shortfalls. The County must prioritize meeting these growing needs. 

Allotting an enormous amount to the Sheriff's Office preempts meeting those needs. The request is an annual expenditure and there is no off-ramp from the annual additional jail expenses from this proposal except for sustainably reducing the size of the jail population. The decision before the Board is a structural one.

3. Alameda County can sustain and expand its reductions in jail population to date without compromising public safety.

  • By investing in community-based mental health care and implementing reforms to reduce the high levels of court continuances for Santa Rita prisoners awaiting trial, Alameda County can sustain much lower numbers of prisoners, and close some of the jail’s 18 units without compromising public safety.
  • The Sabot preliminary staff analysis provided for the Babu litigation estimated staff needed at Santa Rita Jail by projecting a jail population of 2,600-3,000, yet Alameda County has not had an average jail population of even 2,600 since 2015, according to state BSCC data.  
  • The average jail population in the County declined by 46%, from 4,673 in 2010 to 2,524 in 2019. 
  • The County has also demonstrated that it can release hundreds of people from Santa Rita. In the last two months, the population has declined more than 30% further, by from 2,597 to 1,750, according to the Sheriff's COVID-19 updates
  • Yet the number of Detention and Correction ACSO staff is 96.6% of what it was in 2010, according to county budget documents.
  • In-custody deaths in Alameda County were fewer with a larger jail population, suggesting that in-custody deaths have other causes apart from staffing levels.
  • The Sheriff instructed local police departments and its own deputies in March to cite and release people charged with infractions or low-level offenses, resulting in thousands fewer bookings in the jail. 
  • This was also the case when California, under then-Governor Reagan, released a large number of state prisoners without any effect on crime rates. 
  • While factors such as jail layout and minimum requirements affect the number of staff required to run the jail, the size of the jail population is clearly a major factor, since it allows the jail to close complete units.

4. Strategies and programs to reduce the population of seriously mentally ill populations in Santa Rita chronically lack resources.

“While Alameda County provides some community-based treatment, capacity is consistently a problem… Hospitals and treatment centers regularly turn away and discharge patients because of space shortages,” according to a case study on behavioral health services and jailed individuals in Alameda County.

Alameda County Families Advocating for the Seriously Mentally Ill identified these critical program needs:

“1. More Subacute Beds: We need another Villa Fairmont. Villa Fairmont is a subacute facility with 96 beds , originally built to serve Alameda County exclusively. Since then, the county population has increased, stretching those beds thin. Today, Villa shares beds with other counties stretching those beds even thinner. The average stay at Villa is a few weeks to a few months, as opposed to a day or two (often the “72-hour hold”) at John George. Our acute psychiatric facilities are currently being forced to keep patients for long periods of time while waiting for a bed to open up at Villa.

2. More Licensed Permanent Supportive Housing: There is an increasing shortage of licensed and privately-owned “board-and-care” beds, unlocked permanent housing reserved specifically for the mentally ill, where staff takes responsibility for administering medication and monitoring clients’ conditions. In the last decade, our county, and surrounding counties, have lost a large fraction of these beds.”

This is a regional problem. According to Judge Stephen Manley, of Santa Clara County Superior Court, there are not enough treatment and services resources to meet this need in a meaningful way. For example, there are currently 130 people in Santa Clara County awaiting release from jail into a treatment program. The wait time continues to grow. Without sufficient resources, Manley said, “collaborative courts will continue to only be able to address a small percentage of the need.”

5. In-jail treatment of mental health patients is financially expensive.

According to the Sabot staff report, “Currently it costs Alameda County over two hundred thousand dollars a year to house and treat [seriously mentally ill] population in a correction setting vs. a half of that amount in a community-based program.” (Recommendation #8, p. 21) In Alameda County, this is due to:

a) requirements for deputies to accompany behavioral health staff working with inmates;

b) higher compensation packages for custody staff compared to most behavioral health staff - $33,700 more per position on average, according to the ACSO/BHS proposal;

c) the legal requirement that mental health care in the jail be paid for from the General Fund, unlike non-jail mental health care, which may be billed to Medi-Cal or have other revenue streams such as Mental Health Services Act or AB109 funds. (Dr. Kibble statement to Mental Health Advisory Board, April 20)

6. A department with persistent civil rights abuses and indifference to reform should not be rewarded with more resources.

Expert reports, civil rights litigation, testimonies of family members and those incarcerated in Santa Rita all demonstrate the Sheriff’s Office resistance to addressing the causes of in-custody deaths and a culture of indifference to prisoner well-being. This is not addressed by recruiting more deputies.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has paid out more in civil rights abuse settlements than any other Bay Area law enforcement agency. Family members of people in Santa Rita who have died report that the Sheriff’s Office did not tell them how their loved ones died. On April 24, an Alameda County assistant sheriff said that prisoners at Santa Rita with COVID-19 who were shivering and cold were only allowed one blanket (unless medical staff say otherwise) because they “hoard” blankets. A report on in-custody deaths for the Babu case emphasized the jail’s lack of analysis of the causes of in-custody deaths - there have been 48 such deaths since 2014. Without “a complex and reflective interdisciplinary analysis of these deaths,” wrote Terri McDonald, “...the same critical incidents reoccur.”

The Board of Supervisor should not respond to the Sheriff’s Office culture of indifference to prisoner well-being by rewarding it with hundreds of millions of dollars.

7. Jail harms mental health and does not address those with serious mental health needs.

The staff analysis for the Babu case clearly states that “Jails simply are not the proper setting to deliver meaningful treatment for these serious health issues.” (Sabot report, Recommendation #8, p. 21) There is extensive research to support this conclusion. Yet 40% of the Santa Rita jail population experiences mental illness.

“U.S. prisons, jails, and juvenile correctional facilities are unhealthy environments, where inmates are exposed to a wide range of conditions that are detrimental to physical and mental health,” concludes a study by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and UCSF. “Correctional environments are often so inherently unhealthy that even the most well-intended efforts to provide adequate health care are ineffective.” Negative mental health effects of incarceration are reflected in high suicide rates of prisoners, poor mental health after release, effects of the higher risk of victimization from sexual assault, impacts of solitary confinement, and levels of PTSD,  depression, and suicide in correctional officers.

8. Using community mental health services and closing prisons will lead to substantial savings.

Babu plaintfiff counsel Kara Janssen said in a March 27 letter: "To address the problems identified in the lawsuit, the County should be working on an emergency basis to develop, fund, and implement alternatives to custody for everyone, especially persons with serious mental illness, as well as major investments in community mental health to prevent future jail admissions.”

Other examples of the economic of community-based mental health include:

-The Integrated Recovery Network in Los Angeles, which aims to help homeless people with co-occurring mental disorders find housing, treatment and income, has shown that their services cost $12,000 one time per client versus $96,000/year in public costs to re-incarcerate repeatedly.[4]

-Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project in Miami-Dade County, Florida steers people with mental illnesses, who do not pose significant threats to public safety, away from the criminal justice system and into community-based treatment. As a result, arrests in the county decreased from 118,000 to 56,000 annually and recidivism dropped by almost 50 percent. The jail population plunged from 7,300 to 4,000 inmates, closing a jail and generating $12 million in annual savings.[5] 

9. Administrative reforms, including fewer court continuances for the majority in Santa Rita who are awaiting trial, will reduce the jail population.

More than 85% of people in Santa Rita Jail are awaiting trial. This is one of the highest rates in California. Many are there because they can’t pay bail. 

“If it is found that more staff (both custody and behavioral health) are required, one option other than trying to fund, recruit and retain additional staff is to develop a strategic plan to lower the jail population and close further housing units so that existing staff will be sufficient,” wrote Dr. James Austin in a report on Santa Rita’s housing classification system. “Further reductions in the jail population could be achieved (as it has in several large jails such as New York City, Cook County, Philadelphia, and Lucas County) by implementing administrative reforms (reducing court continuances) for detained defendants, greater use of split sentencing, and usage of the milestone credits for sentenced inmates.” (Austin report, pp. 13-14)

10. Diversion to community-based programs will sustain reductions of the jail population

Diversion reduces recidivism. “It is recommended that the SRJ facility divert as many of the non-serious, non-violent seriously mentally ill and homeless population with mental health and substance abuse problems as possible from a jail setting to a community-based treatment setting... The evidence is that mental health and drug courts are more successful than jails in reducing recidivism. And dual diagnosed inmates would be substantially reduced without jeopardizing public safety.” (Sabot report, Recommendation #8, p. 21)

“Mental Health and Drug courts consistently reduce recidivism rates," according to a 2016 case study on Alameda County's behavioral health services and jailed persons. "A study of San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court found a reduction of 26 percent in the probability of new criminal charge and 55 percent in the probability of a new violent charge. A 2012 study of drug courts specifically found a reduction in recidivism of 12 percent. A 2012 study of the effects of mental health courts in a suburban environment found a recidivism rate of 14.5 percent for successful participants, which was 11 points lower than the recidivism rate for individuals who chose not to participate.”

The report continues: “Furthermore, by diverting individuals with mental illness or substance abuse disorders from entering the criminal justice system, counties will save money. The Northampton County Drug Court found savings of $17,906.40 per participant in 2016. A RAND evaluation found that mental health courts were associated with per person savings of $5,948 over two years. The San Francisco Behavioral Courts reduced costs by roughly $10,000 a year for the duration of the three-year program.” (Anna Radoff, et.al., Behavioral Health Services and Jailed Individuals: Case Studies of Fresno and Alameda Couunties and Promising Practices, 2016, pp. 20-21)

11. Alameda County has a legal obligation to provide mental health care in the least restrictive setting possible, and is being investigated for its failure to do so.

Disability Rights California (DRC) has federal and state authority and funding to investigate mental health care. Last November, DRC issued a finding of probable cause of Alameda County's "failure to provide people with mental health disabilities appropriate services and supports in the most integrated setting appropriate," and that as a result "abuse and/or neglect of people with disabilities has or may have occurred." 

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that people with mental health disabilities have a right to access treatment in the most integrated setting appropriate to their care. DRC cites the Olmstead decision by the Supreme Court, and states that "needless segregation in institutions perpetuates unfounded assumptions tha tpeople with disabilities are incapable or unworthy of participating in society."

Some have claimed that Alameda County may be forced by the courts in the Babu case to hire more jail staff to provide sufficient care in the jail. Yet the DRC finding shows that Alameda County may be forced by legal action to provide community-based care, instead of jail-based services, for many of those who are currently incarcerated at Santa Rita. 

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Let Alameda County Supervisors Know Your Mind

Written Comment (accepted until 3:00 p.m. on the Monday, prior to the scheduled meeting, unless noted on the meeting agenda). To provide written comment on an item on the agenda you may send an email to CBS@acgov.org. Please include your name, and either the agenda item number you are addressing (#72). Copies of all written comments will be provided to the Board Members. 

To make a public comment in the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, May 12 at 1:30 pm, and observe the meeting by video conference, please click on this link to join the webinar: https://zoom.us/j/98271491041 To speak when the item comes up, use the raise your hand button in Zoom, and when you are called to speak, unmute your speaker. You will be given two minutes, or possibly one minute, to speak to the Supervisors and public.

To listen to the Board meeting or make a public comment by phone, dial +1 669 900 6833 and enter Webinar ID 982 7149 1041.  Dial *9 to raise your hand to speak. When you are called to speak the host will unmute you to enable you to speak.

You can also view the meeting (but not speak) at http://acgov.org/board/broadcast.htm. 

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