In the thick of the pandemic, Alameda County Sheriff Ahern proposes to bypass other budget needs to vastly expand staffing at Santa Rita Jail – already the “most dangerous place in Alameda County” – for $85 million a year for the next thee years. County supervisors will consider the proposal on April 21, and the Berkeley City Council has a chance at its meeting on Tuesday evening to weigh in against this money grab for handcuffs over healthcare.
The sheriff’s budget has ballooned to $452 million, even as the jail population declined over the last decade. The county badly needs funding in the next year to address the pandemic and profound economic crisis our communities face, on top of existing needs. The sheriff’s department has abused and exploited prisoners at Santa Rita Jail for years, and COVID-19 cases in the jail are now 16 times what they are (per thousand) in the County. The answer is not an unaccountable, massive expansion of jail staff. Instead, the County should invest in public health and programs for those with serious mental health challenges or who are at risk of losing housing.
Community members have come together to draft the below City Council resolution that will need to be “walked in” to the Berkeley CityCouncil meeting on Tuesday. Please urge the Berkeley City Council to send a unanimous message to county supervisors.
PLEASE EMAIL COUNCIL MEMBERS TO URGE THEM TO OPPOSE THE MONEY GRAB FOR SANTA RITA JAIL.
Write to all Berkeley City Council members at: firstname.lastname@example.org
OR Council Members individually at:
Mayor Jesse Arreguin – mayor@CityofBerkeley.info
D1 – Rashi Kesarwani – rkesarwani@CityofBerkeley.info
D2 – Cheryl Davila – cdavila@CityofBerkeley.info
D3 – Ben Bartlett – bbartlett@CityofBerkeley.info
D4 – Kate Harrison – kharrison@CityofBerkeley.info
D5 – Sophie Hahn – shahn@CityofBerkeley.info
D6 – Susan Wengraf – swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info
D7 – Rigel Robinson – rrobinson@CityofBerkeley.info
D8 – Lori Droste – ldroste@CityofBerkeley.info
Proposed Resolution for Berkeley City Council for April 14 meeting
WHEREAS, At the March 24th and March 31, 2020 meetings of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the County Sheriff introduced an item: “Authorize additional staffing and related costs at the Santa Rita Jail for the Sheriff’s Office and Health Care Services Agency/Behavioral Health Services,” which was rescheduled for consideration on April 21; and
WHEREAS, The County Sheriff proposes a funding increase commitment of $255 million over the course of the next three fiscal years ($85 million/year) for the Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and Alameda County Behavioral Health (ACBH) staffing at Santa Rita Jail, including 216 deputies, 47 non-sworn ACSO staff, and 103 ACBH staff at Santa Rita Jail which, if approved by the Board, would be reflected in the County’s Fiscal Year 2020-21 Proposed Budget, in addition to the Sheriff’s Office annual $452 million budget; and
WHEREAS, The State of California has built twenty-one state prisons since 1980, while investments in health, education, and services were cut; and
WHEREAS, This proposal comes at a time when residents throughout our city and county are being laid off and filing for unemployment at unprecedented rates, and community needs will look very different when the County and cities throughout the County discuss next fiscal year budgets; and
WHEREAS, Although the crisis has exposed fundamental faults in the nation’s and the County’s public health systems, and the fiscal impacts on the county and cities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are rapidly growing and are likely to be severe, yet to date there has been little analysis by the County of these fiscal impacts; and
WHEREAS, The Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution in 2018 supporting community requests for a performance and financial audit of the Sheriff’s Office to examine jail costs, staffing, as well as policies and practices that have led to a large number of in-custody deaths; and
WHEREAS, Lack of healthcare and sanitation in Santa Rita Jail has led to multiple class action lawsuits, while conditions of confinement in jails and prisons in other parts of the United States make social distancing impossible and have led to COVID-19 outbreaks, such as in Rikers Island, NY, and Stateville, Illinois, where 647 and 82 prisoners and staff, respectively, have been infected, and prisoners have died from the virus at both jails, and in light of the serious and urgent public health risks, there is an urgent need to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in Santa Rita, including by further reducing the jail population, and
WHEREAS, County funds and resources should be focused on helping cities to address our communities’ needs during the health and economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic; and
WHEREAS, Our communities have an imperative to reinvest many resources currently dedicated to jails, prisons, detention centers, and policing, in order to address critical needs related to public health, homelessness, and climate emergencies; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council for the City of Berkeley hereby adopts this resolution opposing the Alameda County Sheriff”s office proposal to receive an increase of $85 million annually for the Santa Rita Jail budget; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, After reviewing the proposal by the County Sheriff, the Berkeley City Council finds that this funding request is inappropriate and lacks documentation to substantiate the requested funding and staffing increase for the Sheriff’s Office and the jail, and that the proposal prioritizes jail solutions over non-custody remedies, although jail staffing needs are in flux; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, The Berkeley City Council will send copies of this resolution to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors prior to their next Board meeting where the proposal will be considered on April 21, 2020.
You can find the Sheriff’s jail funding expansion proposal here.