OAKLAND, Calif. – Advocates of more community-based services for formerly incarcerated people are celebrating the Alameda County Board of Supervisors decision March 24 to greatly increase fiscal 2015-2016 funding for community-based programs helping people when they return home.
Calling the board’s approval of the measure introduced by Supervisor Keith Carson “a major victory,” Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said the supervisors took “an important step forward in tearing down the web of criminalization and incarceration that entraps too many Alameda County residents, especially low income people and people of color.”
For years the Ella Baker Center has led a series of campaigns against mass incarceration. In recent months the Center’s Jobs Not Jails campaign has rallied a coalition of organizations for greater support to community-based groups helping former inmates
The funds involved come from a “realignment” program begun by the State of California in 2011. Inmates convicted of “non-serious” felonies were shifted from state prisons to county jails, and in turn the state started providing realignment funds to the counties.
So far, most of the money has gone to the sheriff’s department. Starting July 1, half will now go to community based programs helping former inmates with housing, job training, health care, education and other services vital for their successful reintegration into the community.
Supporters waited patiently through several hours of deliberations on other agenda items before lining up to address the supervisors on the new proposal.
“I know what it takes to get back into society,” Darris Young, an Ella Baker Center organizer and former state prison inmate told the supervisors. He cited a report by the Public Policy Institute that found California counties investing more realignment funds in community-based reentry programs are experiencing lower recidivism rates than counties emphasizing enforcement-focused plans.
West Oakland resident William Chorneau said his neighborhood “would really benefit from more help for people as they come out of jail. It’s not just an issue of helping the person coming out of jail, it will help the whole community. A lot of people coming out of jail have children, and these children need help for their families.”
The Rev. Jacqueline Duhart, of Oakland’s First Unitarian Church, told the board, “No amount of money would have comforted my family when my young, gifted and black brother wasted away his youth and talent in the bowels of a Texas prison.” But, she said, the anguish the family experienced when her brother was released was even greater: “The emotional, spiritual and economic trauma that resulted from trying to secure housing, a job, mental health services, drug and alcohol services, helping my brother and his children, was cruel and unusual punishment and totally wrong.”
In his remarks to the supervisors, Norris thanked supporters including the Alameda County Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, the First Unitarian Church, Asian Law Caucus, Alameda Labor Council, Forward Together, and others for their support during the months-long effort.
In the end, the proposal passed with three supervisors in favor, one opposed, and one absent.
In the months ahead, the Ella Baker Center and the organizations that have come together in the Jobs Not Jails campaign say they will continue to work with Alameda County officials to implement the new measure.
Photo: Ella Baker Center