ACSO Requests $255 Million in New Funding Over Three Years; COVID-19 Reaches Santa Rita Jail With No Comprehensive Plans for Prevention or Further Releases
March 28, 2020
Just over a week into the “shelter in place” directive that is now statewide, COVID-19 has reached Santa Rita Jail. The County confirmed on March 26 that a nurse working in one of the jail’s housing units has tested positive for the virus. In response, that pod as well as one other in Santa Rita were placed under quarantine on Friday, March 27. The second pod was allegedly in response to a case of pneumonia or other similar medical condition. All transportation of detainees between the jail and the federal courthouse has been suspended, according to a federal court notice. Community advocates warn that this exposure, combined with Santa Rita’s widely-reported health and sanitation issues, foreshadows a critical and dangerous scenario for the inmate population.
Prisoners themselves have repeatedly demanded access to cleaning and sanitation supplies, warning in a Tuesday, March 17 grievance that “some of us do not receive cleaning supplies for weeks on end.” Yet, rather than taking measures to effectively protect incarcerated people living in close quarters, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has requested $85 million for 370 new jail staff positions, including 216 more armed deputies. This request would total $255 million in additional funding over the next three years. The measure was quietly added to the Board of Supervisors’ March 24 agenda the day before the meeting. Although county residents technically may submit public comment via video, the item was introduced at the last minute and without the knowledge of the public or community organizations — who have repeatedly called for the Board to audit the ACSO and investigate conditions in “the most dangerous place in Alameda County.” Organizers see this as a strategic move by the Sheriff to quickly approve this funding under the radar and with minimal pushback from the community.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors Public Protection Committee postponed its vote on the budget item after community organizations mobilized on Tuesday to condemn approval of this funding and what they see as an effort to circumvent public debate. Hundreds of callers contacted the Board of Supervisors to demand that these funds instead be directed toward housing, re-entry services, or public health — in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in which communities are in dire need of resources and Bay Area hospitals are facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment. Oakland IWOC
The last-minute budget item came on the heels of a number of other critical developments, including the emergency release of 248 individuals between March 19 and 21, which reduced the jail’s population by about 12 percent last week. However, this measure fell short of the Public Defender’s request that the jail release all people with remaining sentences of 6 months or less. Representatives from Bay Area Community Services were onsite to assist released individuals, who reported that prisoners inside Santa Rita Jail are still unable to access cleaning supplies, and have very limited recourse to state-recommended measures such as wearing masks or “social distancing.” In addition to these dangers, because kitchen workers in jails and prisons (workers who, in Santa Rita, are forced to work for no pay, in violation of state and federal law) are considered “critical workers” during the COVID-19 quarantine, they face the risk of infection in addition to the kitchen’s existing health and safety concerns. This ongoing disregard for the health and safety of prisoners was a key issue of the November 2019 workers’ strike, and remains a vital concern of prisoners who delivered a collectively-written grievance to the jail on Tuesday, March 17.
In a March 20 memo to the Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Ahern and Health Care Services Agency Director Colleen Chawla stated that ACSO will be “required” to add 216 deputies and 107 civilian positions to the jail’s roster over the next three years “to ensure that inmates are provided with the highest level of supervision, care coordination, and behavioral health care and support.” However, this “solution” fails to address the repeated demands made directly from prisoners during the strike and through the collective grievance, which detail the horrendous conditions that deeply affect their physical and mental health and overall well-being. Rather, the Sheriff’s request is the product of consultation with “staffing experts” who recommended improvements in the jail’s security, programming, and custody operations. Advocates counter that the consultants cited in this memo were selected and hired by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Ella Baker Center Organizing Manager José Bernal points out that the results of this consultation were never shared with anyone outside of the department. There has never been a full, objective staffing analysis of Santa Rita Jail, he says. Rather than take the Sheriff at his word, says attorney Yolanda Huang, supervisors should order an independent performance assessment of the jail.
The March 20 memo also acknowledges – in a small footnote – that the County is engaged in pending class action litigation and “these staffing changes are also important to resolving the litigation.” Among the many issues raised by the Mohrbacher, Babu, and Upshaw cases are allegations of cruel and unusual punishment which advocates argue cannot be resolved by an increase in sworn staff. “Deputies use isolation as a form of punishment, including for behaviors that are related to an individual’s psychiatric disabilities,” and prisoners may be punitively isolated for “rule violations” as minor as “excessive whistling, reporting to a program late, or failing to return a tray after meal time.”
In November 2019, the Board of Supervisors declined to order a full fiscal and performance audit of Santa Rita Jail, arguing that it represents an unnecessary “parallel process” to the multiple federal civil rights lawsuits against the jail. Courts have a greater ability to influence Santa Rita’s policy, conditions, and budget, they argued. But if an audit represents a financial burden to the county, advocates ask, then why did the County Administrator’s Office recommend that the Board approve over a quarter million dollars in new funding for Santa Rita? And why approve funds for armed deputies when thousands of people in custody desperately need sanitation supplies and medical care?
Community organizations are instead calling for the Sheriff, DA, and Board of Supervisors to immediately release incarcerated people from Bay Area Jails, prioritizing the immediate release of people who are pre-trial and people most vulnerable to COVID-19. They remind the public that Sheriff Ahern has the power to safely release people in custody — every single one of whom are now at extremely high risk, given the conditions created in the jail. If the Sheriff denies these releases, the inevitability of an outbreak of thousands of new cases of COVID-19 in the jail will unquestionably have dire consequences for all inmates, but also — given the high transmission risks — for every resident of Alameda County. The Sheriff, advocates urge, should act with the utmost urgency to protect the safety and lives of the community in this moment of crisis.
You are invited to a Zoom meeting/conference call.
When: Saturday Apr 4, 2020 07:00 PM Pacific Time
The whole world is grappling with how best to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. One country, Cuba, is sending its doctors and nurses around the world to help beleaguered health care systems and making available a Cuban produced antiviral drug Interferon Alpha 2B that has been widely used in China, as well as Cuba, to help successfully combat the respiratory symptoms in patients badly affected by the virus. Meanwhile the US embassy in Havana, Cuba is hysterically demanding that governments refuse to accept the Cuban doctors and drugs.
What lessons can we learn from the Cuban health care system and wider society about how to combat the COVID-19 crisis?
How is the Trump administration intensifying the 60 year old economic blockade of Cuba, and what needs to be done to end the blockade.
This conference call using Zoom software is intended to replace the public event about the Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba that was due to take place in Portland on Saturday April 4th
The speakers will be Stephanie Sarantos and Liam Summers from Seattle (see below for more details). Moderating the call will be John Waller the overall Caravan Coordinator.
After the presentation call participants will be able to verbally ask questions and discuss the issues raised including their implications for Portland.
Jack Herbert from Portland CASC writes – “Let’s come from all our movements to learn from and about Cubans and consult together how to organize, more concretely and safely, showing up for all our struggles effectively and getting community behavior that will best protect us from the virus. We can arrange how we can merge struggles for mass support for all.”
Register in advance for this meeting:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting via your computer or cell phone. The call is scheduled to last for 2 hours.
Stephanie Sarantos is a former staff nurse and now an educator at the Clearwater School in Seattle. She has become a strong advocate for the people of Cuba from traveling on several Pastors for Peace caravans. She is continuously grateful for all she learns from the Cuban people and encourages others to visit and experience the Cuban culture that inspires us to act in solidarity and lead with love.
Liam Summers is a student at the Clearwater School who has traveled on the last 2 caravans and has been inspired by Cuban socialism.
Listen to the Sat. March 28, 2020 edition of the Pan-African Journal: Worldwide Radio Broadcast hosted by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire. The program features our regular PANW report with dispatches on the declaration of a lockdown in the Republic of Zimbabwe in response to the rising threat of the COVID-19 pandemic; a similar policy has also been initiated in neighboring South Africa where President Cyril Ramaphosa has mobilized the Defense Forces to assist in implementing the mandate; in the Republic of Namibia the People’s Republic of China has agreed to build four schools inside the country; and the African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat has self-quarantined after a staff member tested positive. In the second and third hours we continue our focus on the global effort to eradicate the COVID-19 threat. We review a briefing by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Finally we report on the impact of the social distancing directives in two South African provinces of Limpopo and the Western Cape.
SAFER AT HOME means PRISONERS, TOO!
JOIN US on Tuesday, March 31 from Noon to 1PM for a social-distancing rally demanding release of EVERYONE from MSDF.
We’re calling this action a “car parade”–we will drive cars around the facility, playing music or audio clips from our incarcerated friends and family who have been exposed to COVID-19 by the corrupt and morally vacant DOC administration.
MSDF is designed to cycle through criminalized people from Mlwaukee’s low income communities of color. The government could not design a better incubator for the racially targeted spread of COVID-19 if they tried.
Most people held at MSDF stay for a few days to a week, so they will be coming back out soon. As of Friday March 20, the DOC reported the population to be 964 people. They are held in close quarters where social distancing is impossible. MSDF will act as an incubator, spreading COVID-19 among its population, and then sending them back home with the disease. The DOC must release them before that happens.
Governor Evers’ Safer at Home orders includes an exception for people seeking emergency relief for loved ones, we believe this demonstration fits within this exception. Everyone will remain in their cars, protecting themselves from exposure.