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Contra Costa passes realignment budget

on December 7, 2012

Contra Costa County officials approved a budget of more than $20 million at a meeting in Martinez today to both continue operations in the jails, probation department and courts, as well as develop community partnerships geared around reentry.

More than a year after California transferred responsibility for low-levels felons to county jurisdiction, the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) unanimously approved $15.4 million of the total budget to continue operations and expand some county departments. The move came just in time before some departments, including Probation and Behavioral Health Services, ran out of funding to continue their programs for the AB109 population, or those state prisoners that are now in county jurisdiction.

“The urgency of getting something done in regards to the core projects today is important,” said Probation Chief Phil Kader, who is the chair of the Community Corrections Partnership.

The CCP also approved $5.2 million that will be invested in community partnerships to develop programs for prisoners in jail and those coming home, including peer mentoring, several one-stop information centers and a pretrial partnership between service providers and the probation department to lower the number of prisoners who are in jail but have yet to be sentenced.

“I’m juiced,” said Johnny Perez, the youngest member of the Safe Return Project, which has been involved in the discussions surrounding realignment in Contra Costa County for more than a year now. Throughout this process, both the community and the county have repeatedly said they want to see the jails become less crowded and lower recidivism rates.

“We should all be very happy for what we’ve done,” said Reverend Charles Newsom after the meeting in front of a group of 30 attendees who gathered outside to celebrate the progress they worked so hard for. “The leadership of our county is listening.”

One landmark in this process was Sheriff David Livingston’s decision to remove a proposed expansion to the West County Detention Facility from the conversation. After meeting heavy criticism from Richmond leaders and residents, Livingston decided in September to table his proposal to build more beds at the West County Jail.  Today, $2.7 million was earmarked in the general fund for a possible jail expansion. The money is essentially frozen, and the issue will be revisited if the alternative services do not produce results that lower recidivism and prison populations.

Responding to public comment, Livingston also announced at today’s meeting his desire to change Contra Costa’s policy to cooperate with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its secure communities program. Contra Costa currently holds undocumented immigrants in custody for ICE. Livingston is raising questions around the state capital about the purpose of secure communities and he has been meeting with faith leaders and nonprofits in Richmond to talk about reversing this policy.

“At least as it relates to misdemeanor offense, we may not subject them to an ICE hold,” Livingston said.

The approved budget will impact various departments in the county’s justice system significantly, mostly by giving them the resources to hire more staff. The Probation Department will be able to hire four more officers to work in their AB109 department and help spread the case load, which as of now stands around 60 cases per officer. The Behavioral Health Department will be expanding their staff as well, adding more hours and positions for psychiatric and medical specialists, as well as funds for three vehicles to transport clients and an office for its forensic team.

The $5.2 million approved for alternative reentry services signals a huge investment in the community. Following recommendations from the Community Advisory Board, the budget includes $1.3 million for the planning and implementation of one-stop centers and $2 million to help formerly incarcerated people find jobs.

With an approved budget, the CCP can start a bidding process for services, which could take as long as three or four months, officials said.

“The whole thing is going to be a pilot program,” said Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, who sits on the CCP. “This gets us moving and I hear that as a theme over and over, that we’ve got to get started with this.”

Attendees from across the county filled the seats in the large boardroom. During public comment, the line stretched all the way down the aisle to the door and, in the first round of comments, took 40 minutes. The budget approvals were met with applause and cheers, but the urgency of the putting these decisions into action was pronounced. Several commenters stressed the need to establish a reentry program quickly and catch those who are coming out of jail today.

“You got people coming out right now that’s going to recommit because you don’t have no services,” said Antwon Cloird of Men and Women of Purpose. “They need help right now.”

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