Growing Bureaucracy

New agency will help with jail reform

By Howard Schmidt
October 2021

Eager to address systemic racism and equity, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is creating a new agency focused on public safety, justice and community input. The move acknowledges “the role of structural racism in the criminal justice system” and the importance of approaching the problems with an “equity lens,” the board says.

The agency’s formation will allow various county departments to meet with community stakeholders and strive for jail reductions and diversion programs.

Among the departments involved are coroner, probation and public defender. The new agency will serve as liaison to the sheriff and district attorney, since those jobs are held by separately elected officials and don’t fall under the county executive.

Community activists who identify themselves as supporters of Decarcerate Sacramento heaped appreciation on the five supervisors. In the past, the group fought against county plans to improve the jail system. They predicted earlier strategies would result in jail expansions.

The group wants to decrease jail populations and shift money from policing and incarceration. Advocates want dollars spent on alternative, community-based systems. Members are active in the “defund the police” movement.

County insiders aren’t surprised by the board’s action. Last November, the supervisors declared racism a public health crisis and affirmed the need for racial equity. Supervisors Phil Serna, Patrick Kennedy and Don Nottoli voted in favor of the declaration, with Sue Frost opposed. Supervisor Rich Desmond wasn’t yet on the board.

This time, the vote was unanimous to form the new agency and improve community engagement.

But activists didn’t get everything they wanted. Decarcerate Sacramento sought language to create a “Care First: Alternative to Incarceration Committee” that would give them “a seat at the table” to guide the county’s de-incarceration efforts.

County Executive Ann Edwards told the board she was “fully committed to engage with the community.” This means county staff will recommend a committee structure to help the new agency ensure a “community voice” that includes advocacy organizations and formerly incarcerated people.

Edwards said the committee could be ready for board consideration this month.

When the “defund the police” movement was at its peak, public testimony on criminal justice reform was often heated. Profanities were routinely hurled at the supervisors. By comparison, the new agency hearing was tame.

Prior to the vote, Kennedy remarked how the subject of criminal justice reform can be emotional. He thanked the audience for its “polite language” this time around.

While the Board of Supervisors seeks to reduce jail populations, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has been combing through records of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, studying the early release of prison inmates. She found more than 1,300 inmates from our area have been freed after serving less than half their time.

Her findings should concern the public. A recent U.S. Department of Justice study found a 71-percent recidivism rate among prison releases in 34 states, including California.

Schubert and 44 other California district attorneys are suing the state over the good conduct credit rules established for the pandemic. She says the emergency regulations allow additional credits to be awarded to serious and violent felons—including credits not based upon completion of any rehabilitation programs.

Howard Schmidt worked 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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