Alameda County Supervisors Fail to Meet Demands
for Healthcare over Policing
County Approves $318 Million Additional Funding for Sheriff during COVID-19 Pandemic
Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center
Amber Akemi Piatt, Human Impact Partners
Oakland, CA—Despite widespread advocacy for Alameda County to prioritize health care and community resources for residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Alameda County Board President Richard Valle led the county in approving an outrageous $318 million funding request from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and Behavioral Health Services for more than 450 new jail staff over the next three years. This action came after hours of public comment and testimony during the May 12 meeting of the Board of Supervisors where public health advocates, faith and social justice groups, and community members unanimously opposed the Sheriff’s request for additional staff as Santa Rita Jail fails to manage a devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
In the several weeks since the county’s stay-at-home orders went into effect, a coalition of organizers and advocates have continued to take action digitally, demanding the release of incarcerated people inside Santa Rita Jail and urging the Board of Supervisors to invest in healthcare, housing and food security for county residents over policing and incarceration.
Supervisors considered these requests despite projections of at least a $71.9 million deficit in the coming year and of substantial cuts to state and federal funds for the county. Indeed, Supervisor Wilma Chan asserted during the hearing that she wishes there was extra money available for health-affirming community resources instead of more jail staff, but the funds simply do not exist. She and Supervisor Keith Carson voted against the jail budget increase.
“The Board majority chose the most expensive and most harmful way to treat people with mental illness. Sheriff deputies in Alameda County are paid more than in 7 out of 8 other Bay Area counties, and a lot more than mental health clinicians,” said John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee. “The Board failed to use expert recommendations that the County address litigation by reducing the jail population. And they showed no leadership to end the revolving door for people with mental illness between homelessness, inadequate services, and the jail.”
“It is unconscionable, disgraceful, and immoral that the Board during the global pandemic crisis sets its priority on incarceration,” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Manager with the Ella Baker Center.
“We are not only experiencing a novel coronavirus that has already wiped out thousands of human lives across the country including right here in our county, we are also experiencing a massive economic crisis. We now have unemployment numbers that are only comparable to the Great Depression. Thousands of people are experiencing food insecurity. People don’t know where their next paycheck is going to come from,” said Jose.
To date, 50 people incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, which is 22 times the rate of infection in the rest of the county. In fact, a recent ACLU study shows that decarceration is the only viable solution for saving lives from COVID-19 nationally, both inside jails and beyond.
The Audit Ahern coalition was formed in 2017 and has been demanding a transparent fiscal and performance audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. It is currently comprised of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Urban Peace Movement, Causa Justa Just Cause, Public Health Justice Collective, Restore Oakland, Human Impact Partners, American Friends Service Committee, SURJ - Bay Area, APTP, ACLU- Norcal, Justice Reinvestment Coalition, Unitarian Church of Oakland, and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.