Updated: Feb 19
Thank you to Decarcerate Sacramento (site linked here) for creating the amazing toolkit that provided the basis for this piece. Thanks to their work the community was empowered to speak out on this important topic!
So what was going on?
In question was Item 3 at the February 15th Sac County BOS meeting - meeting page linked here
The purpose of the toolkit was to enable the call-out & question the County’s hiring of a retired Police Chief as the head of the new Public Safety & Justice Agency (SJPC's original piece on the PSJA linked here)
(The Agency’s stated goal is to decrease the jail population and improve jail conditions.)
Meet Eric Jones, former Police Chief of the Stockton Police Department:
We are very concerned about the Board's decision to hire a retired police chief as the Deputy CEO for the new Public Safety & Justice Agency (PSJA).
The new PSJA was created with the stated goals of working to decrease our county’s jail populations and improving jail conditions. It’s time for Sacramento County to reimagine what “Public Safety and Justice” looks like, acknowledging the short-comings of what the status quo approach has been — hyper-criminalization and over incarceration.
In November 2020 this Board passed a resolution acknowledging that racism is a public health crisis (except for you Sue Frost - pictured on the right).
In this resolution (SJPC's article linked here) the Board “committed to ensure the consistent collection, analysis and reporting of demographic, socioeconomic and public health data to measure progress toward eliminating racial inequities; to design, develop and deploy community-based alternatives to prevent trauma and eliminate harm associated with racial inequity; and advocate for local, state and federal policies that improve health and wellness in communities of color and support legislation that advances racial equity.”
In declaring racism as a public health crisis, Sacramento County acknowledged that surveillance, over-policing, and mass incarceration have disproportionately impacted Black communities and other communities of color.
We ask that the Board also acknowledge the fact that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.
The PSJA Deputy CEO needs to create a collaborative committee, as promised in August of 2021, to include community and health stakeholders and experts in the planning and decision-making process for decreasing the jail population.
The following questions need to be answered:
How and when will the PSJA Deputy CEO create a collaborative committee to include community and health stakeholders and experts in the planning and decision-making process for decreasing the jail population?
How will the PSJA ensure that racial and health equity is centered in all decision-making?
How do you plan to ensure the Sheriff’s Department moves toward compliance with the Mays Consent Decree in ways that are unrelated to building structure?
How will the goals be measured, how often, and will it be transparent?
It’s critical to understand that this agency would hold the Probation Department, the Coroner, the Public Defender's Office, and the Conflict Criminal Defenders. Eric Jones will oversee all four of these departments, which presents deeply concerning questions. The role of the Public Defender's Office is constitutionally mandated in order to ensure the legal right to representation of everyone accused of a crime. And yet, they are the least funded of all justice system related partners.
A qualified candidate to achieve jail population reduction outcomes rooted in health and racial equity would have had a track record of successful decarceration strategies.
Our community deserves someone with experience reducing jail populations, or at the very least positively impacting health outcomes at a population scale. Eric Jones has not demonstrated this experience or impact and we are concerned with his role in filling jails instead. We hope you fully understand and seriously consider the full implications of your decision.
Important points laid out by Decarcerate Sac:
It’s time for Sacramento County to reimagine what “Public Safety and Justice” looks like
1.If the goals of the Public Safety & Justice Agency are truly to decrease the jail population and improve jail conditions, hiring a retired Police Chief lays a difficult foundation from which to accomplish this.
2. Significant county resources will need to be focused on community, not law enforcement, based interventions that reduce incarceration and rearrest.
3. Eric Jones, has a proven track record of increasing jail populations in his role as an officer and Chief of Police, not decreasing.
(don't worry though, the Stockton PD "makes a difference")
4. Public Health and Racial Equity need to be prioritized to inform the agency's vision and values.
Does this resolution exist in a silo or can it be made part of this effort? There is arguably no issue that more urgently requires this commitment than incarceration. We all know that disproportionately poor people, people without access to mental health resources, and people of color are overrepresented in the jail system and that’s largely because we haven’t applied this racial equity analysis in our policy-making.
The majority of people in the jail are pre-trial; our goal in decreasing the jail population should be preserving the presumption of innocence and access to due process.
Partnering with Health and other Social Services Departments will be essential to ensuring strategies to sustainably reduce the jail population are successful and include a racial and health equity lens.
5. Center Community Expertise and Engagement.
The PSJA Deputy CEO needs to create a collaborative committee immediately to include community and health stakeholders and experts in the planning and decision-making process for decreasing the jail population.
Expand community engagement using multiple channels, including, but not limited to, ensuring “Open Meeting Act” (or Brown Act) compliance.
The Sacramento County community at large should also have significant opportunities to engage in the development of this agency and its strategies moving forward. The community engagement process for the Wellness Crisis Call Center is an excellent example of County providing for this kind of collaborative development.
Community driven alternatives to incarceration must be prioritized over law enforcement based “alternatives,” which have proven to keep people stuck in cycles of criminalization.
6. Redefine what success looks like for directly impacted persons, families, communities, and county staff.
Board, staff, and community must align on vision and values for collective impact.
Prioritize Reinvestment in an Alternatives to Incarceration plan that clearly defines and centers public health, racial equity, and measurable goals and outcomes.
“Evidence-based” practices must be aligned with measurements of success that center social determinants of health and racial equity analyses.
The Public Defender is the ONLY constitutionally mandated entity. Everyone accused of a crime has the legal right to representation. And yet the Public Defender is already funded less than all other “justice partners”, including the DA, Sheriff, and Probation.
Even the public health projects, including Public Defender’s Pretrial Support Project that has a 2% recurrence rate (better outcomes than any other project in the county) was in jeopardy before we pushed to gain funding from the Board.
Reducing pretrial detention also requires reducing pretrial surveillance as it ensnares individuals into incarceration through technicalities and economic barriers. Imagine keeping your ankle monitor charged while living outside, this issue alone has caged many Sacramentans.
We want to see our County come into compliance with the Mays consent decree but also embark on this effort for reasons beyond lawsuit liability. Reducing the jail population is a moral issue and as the agency acknowledges, it’s about justice. It’s about taking accountability for reducing human rights violations and freeing up resources for public dollars for investments that promote safe and healthy and thriving communities.
7. The County is either neglectful of or does not fully understand the power dynamics and potential negative impacts of this decision on the rights of individuals seeking a fair trial and public defense.
Having a law enforcement professional in charge of the Public Defender’s Office presents conflicts of interest and priorities
We’re not aware of any other counties in California that have Probation and the Public Defender reporting to the same county executive.
This will likely present many conflicts of interest
The Probation Department and Public Defenders have fundamentally different ethical and legal obligations. And fundamentally different goals. Public Defenders are part of an accused person's US Constitutional right to criminal legal representation. Public Defenders, like all criminal defense attorneys, are legally required to protect their clients, and our community members and loved one’s, right to be presumed innocent. Whereas Probation has a legal obligation of a peace officer to protect the community by policing compliance of a person accused.
Questions for us to ask moving forward:
What is your vision for your work as the PSJA Deputy CEO?
How will the goals be measured, how often, and will it be transparent?
What is your intention to protect and expand the role of the public defender, community resources, and other interventions to incarceration given that your background aligns with the status quo that has produced mass incarceration?
How are you going to ensure that impacted community members, healthy equity experts, and all county stakeholders are guiding all decisions of the PSJA?