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Supervisors embrace reforms for Alameda County criminal justice — but they won’t be easy

Supervisors embrace reforms for Alameda County criminal justice — but they won’t be easy

An Alameda County report two years in the making has outlined a series of recommendations that would lead to a comprehensive overhaul of the county’s criminal justice system — if it makes it that far.

The 248-page report, titled “Reimagine Adult Justice,” would do just that. The recommendations, presented at a committee meeting on Thursday, aim to reduce recidivism, shrink the incarcerated population at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, prevent victimization of Black and Brown residents, and much more.

If instituted, the county would make enormous strides toward building some of the most progressive criminal justice programs in the region. A jail population review team would identify people for early release, alternatives for people with behavioral health concerns would be increased and a long-term strategy would address racial and ethnic disparities. There would also be a comprehensive oversight system, expanded pretrial release, and community-based rehabilitation programs.

Already, some county supervisors have thrown cold water on the report. Supervisor Elisa Marquez acknowledged the proposals face a tough road ahead. “I think this is a great blueprint and I am happy to do what I can from my office to move it forward,” Marquez said following the report’s presentation. “But it goes nowhere if we don’t fund it and get behind it.”

Although both Marquez and Supervisor Nate Miley expressed a desire to see the initiatives move forward, they also spoke of “managing expectations,” and questions of time and money. “I just want to put a little reality check on how fast all of this moves forward under the best of circumstances, even if we all agree on everything that’s here,” Miley said at the meeting.

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As with any transformational set of recommendations, the real challenges lie in implementation, rather than their conception. Although the report lays out 53 action items, Marquez said the board of supervisors will likely begin by addressing only a handful. Miley, the board’s president, asked where continued funding for the initiative would come from, knowing that Supervisor Richard Valle, who died in February, had been an original champion of the report. Both supervisors expressed the need to hire a project manager moving forward.

The public too, addressed concerns that this report would wither on the vine.

“What you’re calling for is so deep and so complicated — in a good way,” Richard Spiegelman said during public comment. “I just want to really, really encourage the board to provide leadership for what happens going forward.”

The deep concern that the report could “lay dormant on a shelf somewhere” is compounded by the problems that the county faces in its criminal justice system. Black people are at least 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than White people in Alameda County according to City of Oakland data. The Santa Rita Jail is currently operating under a consent decree due to its failure to provide “minimally adequate” mental health care and conditions on confinement. Allegations of systemic racism have rocked police departments in the county.

These are exactly the concerns that the report intends to address. As researcher Wendy Still, the report’s author wrote “almost every element of the report, by its very nature, will reduce the number of minorities penetrating deeper into the justice system.”

Supervisor Marquez, appointed to the board in April to represent the communities of Hayward, Union City, Newark and portions of Fremont, said she recognizes the urgency, and that these recommendations need to be a priority.

“It is clear by the statistics that Black men are disproportionately marginalized in our county, and if we don’t do something about it it’s going to continue to get worse,” Marquez said. “It’s up to us to advocate for Black and Brown people. This body of work is our opportunity to do that.”