Santa Rita  05-15-20 151

(Photo - Doug Jorgensen)

Despite calls to defund the police, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 last week to increase funding for the Sheriff’s Office and Santa Rita Jail by $18 million.

In the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality against African-Americans, several labor unions, community organizations, and individuals had urged the county to reduce funding for law enforcement and incarceration and invest more in community health efforts.

At the June 26 meeting, Supervisors Wilma Chan and Keith Carson also urged the board to reject the increase.

“The board has an obligation to look at all alternatives,” Chan said. “Why can’t we take the time to have those discussions? If we do, we could have something different. I think we have an obligation to do those best practices.”

However, Chan and Carson were outvoted by Supervisors Nate Miley, Scott Haggerty, and Richard Valle.

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and executive director of Justice Teams Network, expressed particular outrage at Miley, one of two African-Americans on the board, along with Carson.

“To hear an African-American elected leader like Supervisor Nate Miley invoke Black Lives Matter while voting in favor of funding a sheriff's office that is killing us is a slap in the face to the entire community,” Brooks said. “Empty words will not deflect from the fact that today Supervisor Miley turned his back on the people he should be fighting to protect. In the same way we need to defund local police departments, we need the county to defund the torture chamber that is Santa Rita and reinvest in community.”

The funding package approved by the board includes an additional $12 million for the Sheriff’s Office and $6.7 million for behavioral healthcare at the jail. It was based on the findings of an independent analysis of the minimum level of staffing necessary for the jail to operate safely for both inmates and staff.

The study was the result of mediation in a federal class action lawsuit against the county and sheriff’s office that alleged mentally ill inmates at the jail were subjected to inadequate care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

Miley, who acknowledged in May that voting for the additional funding would be a difficult decision, said he ultimately felt it was in the best interest of the public.

“If we put this off, we jeopardize personnel at the jail, jeopardize civilians at the jail, and jeopardize inmates at the jail,” Miley said.