OAKLAND, Calif. – Supporters of the 50% for Jobs not Jails campaign rallied at the Alameda County Administration Building here Jan. 20 to urge the five members of the county Board of Supervisors to increase funding for community-based reentry programs and services for people coming out of incarceration.
The campaign, organized by the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, is calling for half of state funds the county receives under 2011 Public Safety Realignment legislation to be earmarked for programs emphasizing jobs, healthcare, housing, education and restorative justice initiatives.
Under realignment, people convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sex related offenses now serve their sentences in county rather than state facilities, and in turn, the State of California allocates funds to each county.
As the group prepared to enter the building, organizer Darris Young told them that instead of most realignment funds going to the county sheriff’s department for incarceration and correctional purposes, as happens now, the campaign wants half to be used to “help people get back into society in a good way.”
Once inside, the activists sought to talk with supervisors and invite them to sign onto the campaign’s petition.
Group members shared thoughts and experiences as they waited outside the supervisors’ suite of offices.
Ella Baker Center’s executive director, Zachary Norris, pointed out that neighboring Contra Costa County is earmarking 60 percent of its realignment funds to community-based programs and services. The number of formerly incarcerated people returning to jail there has dropped significantly.
Norris told of talking with a man who, a month after his release from county jail, had yet to receive a referral to jobs programs. Others, he said, get no help with housing, which he called one of the biggest needs of people coming out of incarceration.
Organizer Maria Dominguez stressed the need for more public information on how the realignment funds are being spent.
One formerly incarcerated member of the group spoke of his difficulties in finding housing, though he has a Section 8 voucher for federal housing assistance: “It’s really hard when you don’t have a job, to go out and look for a place.”
After leaving jail over a decade ago determined never to go back, he said now he seeks to help others so they won’t end up returning to jail.
“But it all starts with decent housing, and a decent wage-paying job. The supervisors need to know there are people out here pounding this pavement, trying to make a difference not only for themselves, but for the community at large.”
The Rev. Jacqueline Duhart, of Oakland’s First Unitarian Church, said that when her brother left prison after two decades, “We realized as a family that any individual reentering from prison needs to have life – a house, a job, a community.”
She called the issue “urgent … political, social, economic, spiritual, and moral.”
Their patience rewarded, group members spoke directly with Supervisor Wilma Chan, who listened to their demands and promised to take action on the lack of budget transparency. Staff members with two other supervisors promised to convey the group’s demands.
The group also called on the supervisors to support dropping charges against the “Black Friday 14,” protesters who halted area rapid transit services Nov. 28 in protest over police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others.
Photo: Darris Young addresses the rally as Maria Dominguez (left) and the Rev. Jacqueline Duhart (center) listen. | Marilyn Bechtel/PW