On July 27, 2021 the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to create a Public Safety and Justice Agency (PSJA). Sounding like the next installment from the D.C. Comics franchise, the Public Safety and Justice League...er, Agency was proposed by Interim County CEO Ann Edwards as a way to ‘Marie Kondo’ some of the orgs in the hopes of providing accountability, oversight, and coordination. This agency will be housed under the County Executive’s office and includes Probation, the Coroner, Conflict Criminal Defender, and Public Defender. It will also serve as liaison to the Offices of the Sheriff and District Attorney, and the Law Library. It will coordinate with the Office of the Inspector General, Superior Court, Criminal Justice Cabinet, and the Community Corrections Partnership, and it will also oversee staff that provides support to the Criminal Justice Cabinet.
Previously, the Social Services Agency oversaw the Conflict Criminal Defender, Probation, Coroner, and the Public Defender. And we all know how well all the different county agencies communicate and work together…..NOT. The PSJA purports to assume responsibility for the County’s role in the criminal justice system and provide a clear communication structure for criminal justice agencies that are outside of the County structure or have elected department heads.
Remember the Mays Consent Decree that a federal court approved in 2020?
This was the result of a lawsuit against the County on behalf of the nearly 3,700 individuals incarcerated in Sacramento County’s jails that alleged that the County failed to provide constitutionally required mental health and medical care to people in the jail, employed harsh and extreme forms of solitary confinement, failed to implement essential suicide prevention measures, and discriminated against people with disabilities.
This settlement requires the County to significantly expand its mental health services, revamp its medical care system, implement improved suicide prevention measures, and ensure that people with disabilities have the accommodations they need and can access jail programs and services. The County is subject to the terms of the consent decree for at least five years, and its compliance with the settlement is monitored by independent court-appointed experts and Plaintiffs’ class counsel.
You think the County has made significant progress toward compliance with the Decree? Hell nah. The first monitoring report found that more than a year after federal approval of the Mays consent decree, the County has not fully complied with any of the mental health provisions, none of the suicide prevention provisions, and only 5% of the medical provisions. Additionally, the monitoring report called attention to the fact that in Sacramento County, 55% of the jail population has a length of stay of 7 days or less, and 95% of the jail population have a length of stay that is 6 months or less.
What measures has the County taken toward Decree compliance?
Well first, they thought they needed to spend $10 million on a construction contract for a brand new jail in order to comply. After receiving a grip of pressure from the community to instead take an in-depth examination of how to change the culture and behaviors that resulted in the consent decree mandates in the first place, the Board of Supervisors denied the approval of the new jail construction contract in March 2021.
So here we are in late July 2021 with the Public Safety and Justice Agency as the County’s next best attempt toward implementing the remedial plans associated with the Mays Consent decree, which is to include efforts to reduce the County’s jail population through targeted and systemic jail reduction and diversion efforts.
The homies at Decarcerate Sac strategized, organized, and mobilized the community to speak out at the July 27th Board of Supervisors meeting! They asked the Board to acknowledge in writing that efforts to reduce the jail population must be rooted in racial justice, health equity, and genuine community engagement in order to be successful. After all, racism got declared a public health crisis by the Board of Supes back in November...and they have yet to put this declaration into practice. This is important because the community has been asking for the County to focus on the underlying inequities that allow some people to cycle in and out of jail, specifically people of color, the disabled and those coping with a mental illness.
The Board of Supes agreed to move forward with the ordinance to create this new Public Safety & Justice Agency in order to get the ball rolling on recruitment efforts to hire the new executive who will head the PSJA (with the starting annual salary at a quarter of a milli, fyi - see the job description here). As a direct result of Decarcerate’s efforts and community action, the Board asked the County CEO’s office to engage with community and labor groups before bringing this topic back at the next scheduled meeting to provide a resolution with specific language recognizing the commitment of the PSJA to race and health equity and community engagement in the process of jail reduction and diversion efforts.
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED AND ORDERED that in its role overseeing the County’s role in the criminal justice system, the PSJA shall acknowledge the role of structural racism in the criminal justice system and ensure that racial equity is a key factor in its decision-making on matters within its control and while seeking relevant input from community stakeholders.”
Thus far, there has been no community engagement in the creation of this agency, its structure, vision, or goals. Our homies at Decarcerate have given the County so much free labor, it’s crazy. Decarcerate Sac provided draft resolution language for the County to create a “Care First” Committee to guide decision-making and planning for jail population reduction that includes not just representatives from relevant departments and advisory boards, but the community members who have been personally impacted by the criminal justice system aka to ensure that the county's plans to decrease the jail population and improve conditions are led by community. Between July 27 and August 10, Decarcerate Sac and other community representatives met with the CEO’s Office about this and although CEO Edwards pinky-promised to include community engagement, the specific language was left out of the resolution presented to the Board on August 10.
During the August 10 meeting, members of the community called in to voice their concerns regarding the lack of specific intent language regarding community involvement in the resolution.
“Your decision today can create pathways for community-engaged visioning, planning, and decision making or it can reinforce hierarchical status quo structures of county governance that have gotten us to where we are now with nationally high incarceration rates, suicide rates, and premature preventable deaths in our county’s jails.” - Public testimony from a community member
Supervisors Serna and Nottoli were the biggest advocates for adding intent language into the resolution, language that didn’t define the charge of the committee but language to communicate the plan to include impacted individuals. According to Supervisor Nottoli: “I know we received suggestions for language but it goes a little deeper than we’re prepared to set today.”
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED AND ORDERED, Sacramento County staff will bring back to the Board by separate resolution a proposed committee structure in order to allow for community collaboration opportunities and provide a community voice into the dialogue on decreasing the jail population, recognizing the importance of including voices of individuals with lived experiences and those most closely impacted by incarceration.”
Supervisor Nottoli also voiced his desire for County staff to ensure community representation is included in the interview panel for the PSJA Executive position.
Word is bond. And we got the County to include their Word in this Resolution. Now we gonna hold them to it!