Still Talking: County officials commend collaboration, need realignment budget

Contra Costa County officials commended each other for collaborating in the year since the state transferred responsibility of low-level felons to county jurisdiction. Photo by Julie Brown

Contra Costa County officials commended each other for collaborating in the year since the state transferred responsibility of low-level felons to county jurisdiction. Photo by Julie Brown

One year has passed since California transferred responsibility for low-level felons to its counties, and Contra Costa officials have yet to pass a budget for the $19 million the county received in July to handle the transition — stalling services for inmates and people getting out of jail now.

At a meeting Thursday the Community Corrections Partnership, a seven-member group charged with overseeing realignment, celebrated what it has accomplished: collaboration between departments and agencies. The partnership brings department heads from the offices of the sheriff, the district attorney, the public defender, probation, health and human services, and the courts to the same table. Its meetings also engage a wide representation from community nonprofits and services that want to support and provide care for people coming out of jail or prison.

“It’s nothing short of remarkable the collaboration, the successes,” said Phil Kader, chief probation officer and chair of the CCP.

Beyond agreeing on the success of collaboration, the partnership was divided in philosophy on how to proceed. While some want to take the time to look at the fine print and develop the right plan, others are frustrated because their work is stalled until a budget is approved.

At its September meeting, the CCP tabled a proposal to expand the West County Detention Facility in favor of exploring alternatives to lower crime and reduce recidivism. A temporary committee was formed to develop a plan that will outline goals and services from the moment a prisoner is arrested to the day they leave jail and return to their community. The committee met four times in September, and three additional meetings are scheduled in October.

“We had very robust discussions, very open discussions,” said Public Defender Robin Lipetzky, chair of the committee. Lipetzky and Kader acknowledged the tension between the urgency of a budget and developing the right plan.

“I share concern about the time it’s taking,” Kader said. “But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.”

Undersheriff Mike Casten, who sat in for Sheriff David Livingston, approached the committee Thursday to ask for money for the Sherriff’s Dept. to purchase a 62-person bus with a bathroom to transport inmates to Kern County. Contra Costa has traditionally received and processed inmates at San Quentin, but the state looks like it will transfer the reception center to Kern County.  A bus to drive prisoners the five hours to Kern County is a basic operational need, Casten said. The bus would cost $650,00.

The CCP could not vote on the matter because all line items were taken off the agenda until the committee completes its plan.

“The way the CCP is almost hesitating is ridiculous,” Casten said.

The CCP decided to schedule a vote for the bus on Monday at its committee meeting. Casten’s frustrations, though, echoed around the table.

“We seem to be adding more committees instead of making decisions,” said District Attorney Mark Peterson.

In the probation department, Supervisor Melvin Russell said he’s tired of coming back empty-handed to his staff.

“We are running out of options on where to send people” for services such as shelter, job training, and rehab, Russell said.

Still, many audience members commended the CCP for the work they’ve done over the last year, and said they want to continue supporting the group as the plan unfolds to on-the-ground services.

“They’re making tremendous progress,” said Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. “It’s urgent they adopt a budget that reflects the values and priorities of the community

One Comment

  1. Kennedy Grad

    Electronic monitoring seems to be the wave of the future, I wonder if that would be any help in this situation?

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