Free Our Kids
Community Groups Celebrate Cancellation of $75 Million Plan to Revamp Alameda County Youth Detention Camp
Free Our Kids Coalition advocated against expensive plan to rebuild Camp Sweeney, urges policy makers to invest in young people, not incarceration
July 2, 2020
OAKLAND, CA -- As a result of the advocacy of community members from the Free Our Kids Coalition as well as budget shortfalls due to COVID-19, Alameda County has cancelled plans to spend $75 million to rebuild its juvenile probation camp, Camp Sweeney. Yet, while the Alameda County Probation Department says there is no current plan to rebuild, its budget includes a $10 million line item for Camp Sweeney.
“Alameda County must reimagine the youth justice system and end criminalization of young people,” said Jessica Nowlan, executive director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center. “While we are celebrating this important victory, we know we have much more to do to defund punishment and, instead, fund supports and alternatives for young people. We will continue to call on the County to do what we know can help young people be safe, healthy and free: invest in community support--not cages.”
Alameda County now has a critical opportunity to implement a community-led process to reimagine and redesign the County’s approach to youth justice. The county must move away from mass incarceration and towards investments into the supports, opportunities, and alternatives to incarceration that Alameda County youth need to thrive.
“While we are grateful that plans to waste millions of dollars to rebuild a 100-bed juvenile camp that, on average, houses 14-15 young people per day, were cancelled, we demand more for Alameda County youth,” said Nicole Lee, executive director of Urban Peace Movement. “We are calling on the County to work with our coalition of community groups, and with young people, to invest in youth services instead of capital improvements.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and given that the number of young people in detention continues to decline, now is the time for counties to shut down juvenile halls and facilities. While San Francisco moved to shut down its juvenile hall in 2019, Alameda County, in comparison, spends nearly $460,000 per youth per year to keep one young person locked up; 42% of its $121.7 million discretionary children's services budget goes toward just two county-run youth prisons.
“This victory would not have been possible without the youth leadership that drives our movement for the transformation of the juvenile justice system,” said Xochitl Larios, youth justice program associate at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). “But we also recognize that it took a global pandemic for Alameda County to make this move to stop this costly expansion. Our work together has just begun: the County must do all it can to reduce barriers for young people of color by moving away from mass incarceration.”
Alameda County’s juvenile probation facilities are stark examples of the criminalization of communities of color that has led to protests and uprisings across the world. The County’s public data for the first quarter of 2020 indicates that Black, Latinx, and Asian youth made up 100 percent of the population in Camp Sweeney and 95 percent of the population in the Juvenile Hall. The racial disparities that these types of statistics make inherently clear are proof of the systemic barriers facing young people of color.
"Cancelling plans to rebuild Camp Sweeney gives us the space to truly assess... the harm being done by the juvenile system to our youth, and particularly our youth of color, and to lean into our County's unique wealth of community resources," said Yasmine Tager, Brian Lewinstein youth justice fellow at the East Bay Community Law Center. "We are ready to work with the County to re-imagine a more equitable, holistic, and fiscally responsible approach to serving youth in Alameda County."
The Free Our Kids Coalition convened in 2019 to oppose the original proposal to rebuild Camp Sweeney and to transform the juvenile justice system in California. Members of the Coalition include: Urban Peace Movement, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, W. Haywood Burns Institute/Community Justice Network for Youth, Youth Law Center, East Bay Community Law Center, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Restore Oakland, Ceres Policy Research, GENESIS, An affiliate of the Gamaliel Network, Alameda County Justice Reinvestment Coalition and the National Institute on Criminal Justice Reform.
Decarcerate Alameda County
Despite Budget Shortfall and Overwhelming Support for Defunding the Sheriff, Alameda Supervisors Vote to Increase Funding for Santa Rita Jail
June 26th, 2020
For more information contact: Amber Akemi Piatt, firstname.lastname@example.org
Amid countrywide calls for racial justice and mutual aid, and in the middle of a pandemic, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors votes to fund the deadliest jail in the state of California.
Alameda County, California, June 26th, 2020 On Friday morning, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to pass the county budget and to increase funding to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Rita Jail by $18 million dollars despite widespread calls from labor unions, constituents, and community organizations to invest in community health rather than in punishment. Supervisors Chan and Carson voted against the inclusion of the $18 million and called for the Board of Supervisors to consider alternatives to increased funding to the Sheriff’s office. However, Supervisors Miley, Haggerty, and Valle defied the will of the people and voted for the increase, ultimately moving it forward with a majority vote.
In explaining her dissenting vote, Supervisor Chan, who chairs the county’s Health Committee said, “I believe that the Board has an obligation to look at all alternatives [to increased jail spending]… Why can’t we take the time to have those discussions? If we do, we could have something different. I think we have an obligation to do those best practices.”
Declarations of disappointment in the Board’s decision to fund incarceration rather than community care continued during public comment today, including from many Decarcerate Alameda County members.
Tash Nguyen, a longtime advocate on issues of community safety in the county, remarked: “The Alameda County Labor Council, family members who have lost their children in Santa Rita Jail, and 100 organizations have descended on this Board for months asking you to listen and to pass a moral budget. Not a single person who has spoken on these issues have asked you to rebuild a youth jail or add more funds to the Sheriff, not one. What does this say about you? About your democratic principles? About your leadership? How can you say you care about Black lives, when of the $3.5B you’re passing in this budget, there is not a single dollar in this year’s budget allocated towards expanding diversion or alternatives to incarceration?”
“To hear an African American elected leader like Supervisor Nate Miley invoke Black Lives Matter while voting in favor of funding a Sheriff's Office that is killing us is a slap in the face to the entire community,” said Cat Brooks, Co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and Executive Director of Justice Teams Network. “Empty words will not deflect from the fact that today Supervisor Miley turned his back on the people he should be fighting to protect. In the same way we need to defund local police departments, we need the county to defund the torture chamber that is Santa Rita and reinvest in community.”
Decarcerate Alameda County plans to continue pushing for a budget that reflects commitments to justice, healing, and health.
Decarcerate Alameda County, formerly known as the Audit Ahern Coalition, is a growing coalition of organizations and community members joining together to demand that Alameda County free people from Santa Rita Jail, divest from incarceration & policing, and invest in community health, not cops. Learn more at decarceratealameda.org
Reentry and AB 109
June 11, 2020
For the first time in the nine years of implementing AB 109, the state allotments to California‘s counties have been decreased rather than increased. Alameda County‘s allotment for FY 19/20 was $50.4 million. But for FY 20/21 it will be $42.5 million. That nearly $8 million reduction from state funds means a loss of $4 million to the CBO’s 50% share for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
The JRC has initiated discussions on reframing the AB 109 Campaign from the narrower AB 109 population of individuals incarcerated for lower-level felony crimes to the ‘Reentry Campaign’ that seeks to address the needs and to advocate for ALL formerly incarcerated individuals. A reframed campaign will engage more broadly JRC members who provide reentry case management support and restorative healing circles for participants returning home from jail and prison. Also, it will provide that support to individuals who have been home for long periods of time, but still face substantial reentry barriers. Perhaps this reframing process can be on the agenda for our upcoming retreat.
Next Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) AB109 & Prop 47 Task Force Meetings for the rest of June & July:
- June 25, CCP Program and Services Workgroup, 10 AM
- July 1, CCP Process and Evaluation Workgroup, 10 AM
- July 7, CCP Fiscal and Procurement Workgroup, 3 PM
- July 15, CCP Countywide Strategic Plan I Implementation Meeting, 3 PM
- July 20, CCP Executive Committee, 1 PM
- July 23, CCP Programs and Services Workgroup 5 PM
- July 27, Prop 47 Task Force, Local Advisory Committee, 7 PM
(see AC Probation website calendar for meeting details, agendas, attachments & Microsoft Teams links)
Urban Strategies Coalition
SAVE MONEY, SAVE LIVES—AUDIT SHERIFF AHERN
"I’m concerned about troubling reports that have emerged surrounding the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). Alameda County residents deserve full transparency and accountability, and I fully support community members in their request for an independent financial and performance audit of the ACSO." - Senator Nancy Skinner
Why an Audit?
Over the past 10 years, the Alameda County jail population has decreased by half—so why has Sheriff Ahern's budget continued to grow by $144 million in the last decade, totalling $443 million in 2019? Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, who is also the county coroner, has few restrictions and little oversight to his power.
A full and independent audit of the ACSO would provide an opportunity for our county officials to reallocate resources toward services that improve our health and wellbeing, and ensure our safety.
$100,000 would provide 1,000 HIV tests in community-based clinics.
$1.3M would provide after-school programming to 1,000 students for 1 year.
$27.8M would house over 1000 individuals in a market-rate apartment for a year.
$10M would house 300 of Alameda County's poorest families for a year in a subsidized apartment.
"We the People have the power and responsibility to hold our electeds acountable. They work for the people. We pay their salary. We voted them into office. So it is our responsibility to hold them to a higher standard." - Danny Thongsy
The Justice Reinvestment Coaltion of Alameda County have been partnering with Urban Peace Movement in holding the Alameda County District Attorney's Office accountable in their judicial pratices. The UPM youth leaders have been an integral part of this effort in Alameda County to educate voters and community members about the power and discretion of the District Attorney to either further the system of mass incarceration or create policies and practices that disrupt the current system and push both youth and adults towards alternatives to incarceration!! The DA’s Office has so much decision making power and in many ways they function like the gate-keepers of the criminal justice system.
UPM youth members and the JRC conducted community outreach (through phoning and door knocking) reaching thousands of community members, helped to lead 3 town hall meetings engaging over 1000 community members, and participated in a series of research meetings with the likes of the SF County DA, the two DA Candidates for Alameda County, the Alameda County Public Defender, the Presiding Juvenile Judge, and various other advocates and systems leaders. Through this work, youth from UPM along with our community partners in the Justice Reinvestment Coalition have won agreements from the DA’s Office to lower probation terms and to cease prosecuting youth for misdemeanors. Additionally Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley has agreed to meet with us regularly in order to work through further systems change efforts and to report out data to the community about changes that have already taken place.
"We all lose when we shut out thousands of people from being part of our economy....The County must take the necessary steps to put formerly incarcerated people on a path to success.”- Dr. Prince White
Bridging the gap to quality, livable wage jobs for formerly incarcerated workers
The Justice Reinvestment Coalition has worked hard in ensuring that the 1400 jobs for formerly incarcerated workers is seeing some progress and forward movement with help from Alameda County Administration toward our goal of 1400 jobs, but we need the Board of Supervisors to do more toward this effort. Two years ago on June 28th, 2016 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors made a groundbreaking commitment to create hundreds of quality, long-term, County jobs for formerly incarcerated community members through a program called “Jobs for Freedom.” This commitment came after community groups working together through the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County pushed the County to think creatively about how to create opportunities that help turn the tide on mass incarceration and help formerly incarcerated people transition out of the system successfully.
Over the last 5 years, Alameda County’s Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer jails have experienced a decreased average daily population of 1,400 beds per year due to community-led reforms to the criminal justice system and efforts to turn the tide on mass incarceration. Legislative advances like AB109, SB 678 and Proposition 47 have provided the impetus for such changes, yet research shows that without gainful employment, formerly incarcerated people are likely to reenter the system. Since the creation of the program, the county has currently hired 6 people with another 4 going into jobs in early September hired They have identified another 30 plus vacancies in the Program Worker classification that formerly incarcerated workers participating in the program can fill. Up to this point Alameda County has leveraged one private sector employer, a cold storage facility to participate in this program and that is expected to bring another 10–20 jobs this year alone. For us to get to 1400 jobs we need the county to leverage the relationships it has with other public and private employers to commit to hire formerly incarcerated residents into jobs as well.
People who have convictions or even arrests without conviction, face enormous barriers to employment. We know that incarceration leads up to a 30% decline in one’s chances of employment post release. We also know that 90% of employers utilize criminal background checks resulting in a 50% decrease in hiring callbacks for those with arrests or convictions on their record. And, there are hundreds of thousands of Alameda County residents who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.
The Alameda County Re-Entry Hiring Program was approved in 2016 and we still need the Board of Supervisors to keep the promise of getting more employers that pay a livable wage to get involved in the program. Due to the county’s low turnover rate, we need more public and private employers to commit to hiring workers who have past participation in the criminal justice system.
In 2016, the Justice Reinvestment Coalition, consisting of 15 community and faith based organizations came together and served as a united front that helped gain victories in various criminal justice reform policies. During this period there were many JRC issues on the table that the organizations in the coalition were fighting at this time such as the ‘Sugar Tax’, AB109, Prop 47, and Ban-the-Box just to mention a few. The focus on a jobs campaign was important, as it brought to fruition many of the battles that were being waged at the time. This coalition’s push for Alameda County to step in as leader in providing employment that would allow formerly incarcerated people to earn a livable wage, was an uphill battle. Although the JRC had allies within the county, there were also many obstacles and barriers that made a seemingly simple process very difficult. Now with county’s hiring of a new HR Director Joseph Angelo, and the involvement of Probation Chief Wendy Still many of these obstacles are being overcome and the program is finally getting on track.
The initiative utilizes a proven model developed by folks that have experience navigating this system to provide leadership development, reduction of employment barriers, mentorship and court advocacy for participants that have continued contact with the criminal justice system. Building from successful employment models in Alameda County, the Jobs for Freedom Initiative has paved the way for programs such as Bay Area Black Worker Centers’ job readiness training referred to as the Northstar program and other community led job readiness programs to be a feeder to livable wage jobs in Alameda County as well as private employers that offer comparable jobs.
The JRC is moving closer to the goal of increasing access to quality, livable wage jobs for and reducing employment barriers for formerly incarcerated people in Alameda county. As we continue to partner with Alameda County, we need leadership from the Board of Supervisors to bring their public and private and sector allies in the to join as additional employers in order to increase the number of jobs workers can apply for. There are thousands of formerly incarcerated Alameda County residents who deserve the chance to have gainful employment and get their lives on track. It’s time to make the promise into a reality and take this program to scale!
- Keith Snodgrass