Contra Costa County officials are expected to vote tomorrow morning on how to spend a $19 million grant from the state to help deal with crowded county prisons. The funding follows the state’s decision last year to transfer responsibility for many non-violent offenders to local agencies.
Members of the Contra Costa County Community Corrections Partnership have come up with several options for spending the money. Part of it, County Sheriff David Livingston and Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus agreed, should be spent to keep basic operations at jail facilities, the probation department and the sheriff’s office in place. Livingston has also proposed building a 150-bed dormitory at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond. Magnus has said that before voting on a jail expansion, the committee should research other alternatives that may reduce jail overcrowding and high recidivism rates.
“I’m not ready to vote for jail expansion at this meeting,” Magnus said.
It’s been almost a year since the state transferred responsibility for non-violent felons to county jurisdiction, in a process known as realignment. How counties handle this transition has been left largely up to them. In Contra Costa, Livingston, Magnus and many Richmond community members say they want to create a system that will help offenders serve a sentence and after being released, return to their communities successfully.
“I’m completely on board with the overall goal, which is to give offenders a chance of success,” Livingston said. “And whatever form that takes, I’m very interested in supporting that. However, I do have to balance that with the increase of inmates that have come to my county.”
Like counties throughout California, Contra Costa’s jail facilities were built to house prisoners for shorter sentences. Prior to realignment, parole violators used to stay in Contra Costa facilities for an average of 14 days. Now it’s an average of 70 days. Since realignment, Contra Costa has seen a total number of 150 people sentenced to its facilities, with the longest term being just over three years. Contra Costa County also contracts with U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement to hold immigrant detainees, which take up beds that were built for prisoners. The County also has a high percentage of inmates awaiting sentences. As of Wednesday morning, 61 percent of inmates in the entire Contra Costa system and 76 percent of inmates in jail have yet to be tried — many of them low-level non-violent offenders who can’t afford bail.
Magnus and community opponents to jail expansion see opportunity in bail reform, which, according to Magnus, would take into consideration an inmate’s level of risk and likelihood of appearing at trial.
Other Richmond residents opposed to jail expansion said they would like to see the realignment funds be used to set up a one-stop shop for services to support recently released prisoners and reduce the recidivism rate.
“We have to provide an avenue for people coming out to get back on their feet,” said Andres Abarra, who sits on the community advisory board that provides comment to the seven-person partnership overseeing the realignment. “Because there’s not one person coming out [of jail] that wants to go back.”
Livingston wants to build more beds at West County because he says there are more services there, including classes in anger management, parenting, English as a second language, and alcohol and narcotics awareness, than at other facilities in the County.
“It’s actually trying to get offenders to the programs that we already offer,” Livingston said.
A strong contingent of concerned Richmond residents attended last month’s meeting to oppose Livingston’s plan to expand the West County jail. And community organizers are rallying support once again.
“We want [the county] to know that we still feel really strongly and we’re watching you,” said Marilyn Langlois, a representative from the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) will be chartering buses for Richmond residents to attend the meeting in Martinez. Buses will leave at 7 am from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at 321 Alamo Ave. and St. Mark’s Catholic Church at 159 Harbour Way in Richmond.