Reimagining Public Safety

Contra Costa Community Defense Network

Exciting news from our allies at the Safe Return Project (which supports formerly incarcerated individuals): SRP is launching a Participatory Defense Network for Contra Costa County!

What is participatory defense? According to the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, the San Jose-based organization which pioneered this model, it means bringing a “community organizing ethic to the court process; encouraging the active engagement of families and communities in the defense of a loved one who has had contact with the criminal justice system; holding the public agencies that make up the criminal justice system accountable; and bringing a community presence to what is usually an isolating court process.” Ultimately, participatory defense is aimed at equipping impacted communities with the tools and information needed to meaningfully impact their local criminal justice system.

Richmond's Family Justice Center

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While cases of family violence have traditionally been viewed as isolated incidents, studies are now showing the link between domestic violence and other forms of violence in communities. For instance, a majority of mass shootings (54%) are related to domestic or family violence. In one study examining 10 officer-involved critical incidents in ten years, the suspects had a history of violence against women in 80% of these cases. Research also shows that domestic violence and child abuse often occur in the same families and children living in violent families are more likely to engage in violent activities when they are older.

When a community focuses on reducing the incidents of family and domestic abuse, this effort can provide a measurable benefit to reducing overall crime while promoting overall community health. The Family Justice Center (the “Center”) is a warm and welcoming one-stop center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking. We bring resources to meet the needs of children, youth and families impacted by interpersonal violence.

The Family Justice Center model has been identified as a best practice in the field of domestic violence by the United States Department of Justice, and is employed in over 100 communities worldwide. The West Center in Richmond opened its pilot site in 2011 and moved to its permanent location in June of 2015. In 2016, the West Center assisted 986 clients, and we expect to serve over 1,000 clients in 2017.

The West Family Justice Center currently has 19 on-site partners, including community based victim advocates, mental health counselors, detectives from the Richmond PD, a Deputy District Attorney, DA victim advocates, attorneys and County public benefits staff. Our programs and services fall under three categories: crisis support, long term safety, and community building and education. The Family Justice Institute offers free workshops on substantive topics, such as “trauma 101” and “Interpersonal violence 101.”

The Family Justice Community Fellows program offers a 10-month long fellowship opportunity in which survivors of violence develop their leadership skills while creating their own projects to support others in their community. On December 8, 2017, the second cohort of nine fellows graduated and and showcased their achievements.  Each fellow completed a project on a range of topics with which they have personal experience, including reducing bullying in schools, supporting foster youth in transition, connecting abuse survivors with pets, and offering art classes to urban youth.

Punishment Should End after Time Served

We were so moved after this recent OpEd by the amazing Tamisha Walker, Executive Director of the Safe Return Project, that we could not help re-publishing some of it.

The RPA partners with the Safe Return Project as part of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Alliance, which works to reduce racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. The coalition has successfully worked on many issues, including instituting “Ban the Box” in Richmond, and advocating for the appointment of Diana Becton for interim District Attorney.

San Francisco Chronicle:  Punishment should end after time served

By Tamisha Walker
November 14, 2017

Our system of criminal justice is built on a fundamental belief that those convicted of wrongdoing have a debt that should be paid to society, and then forgiven. But for many people with criminal records, the consequences of past mistakes continue to hamper our ability to thrive long after that debt has been paid.

I know these challenges firsthand. And I know the changes we as a society need to make to help people like me put their lives back together.

I have been one of the lucky ones. But for every success story like mine, there are dozens of people who continue to be shut out of society. There are nearly 5,000 different restrictions placed on people with felony convictions in California, making it difficult if not impossible for people to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other keys to achieving economic security and financial stability.

Federal, state and local laws on the books create obstacles for people trying to reassemble their lives after experiencing the trauma of incarceration.

The situation is particularly difficult for women, who face unique challenges and needs when they reintegrate into society. The majority of re-entry programs are geared toward men. Issues like access to housing, employment and public assistance become more dire for women, especially those with young children, as they try to put their lives back together.

When I was released from jail in 2009, my first priority was to regain custody of my kids. But in order to do that, I needed to have stable housing and a job. Time and time again, my applications for housing or employment were rejected simply because of my past mistakes. I remember going to the Burlington Coat Factory in Richmond, joining the hundreds of people standing in line for about 100 open positions.

I got through the first interview feeling really confident, leaving with a friendly handshake from the woman who conducted the interview. As I walked away, I saw her look at the application, and drop it in the trash. My heart sank. I knew I would never get a call back. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their release, and when they are able to find a job, they often are paid less.

I had to check the box admitting to my past record. In a competitive hiring environment, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.

To read more, click here.

Appalling Conditions for Female ICE Detainees in Richmond Jail

Recent news stories (broken by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis Taylor) about appalling conditions for female ICE detainees have prompted strong calls for investigations of the West County Detention Center in Richmond. The jail receives $6 million per year from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run a federal detention center to house people suspected of immigration violations.

Taylor detailed accounts of women being locked up and made to wait up to 23 hours for bathroom access, and forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also described other problems, such as lack of health services, and being punished for speaking Spanish. Several elected officials have called for investigations, including Nancy Skinner who requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra look into the allegations.

On November 4, members of the public rallied in front of the jail to protest the conditions. Former Richmond Mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin, went further, noting that “Citizens and elected officials of Richmond, myself included, have demanded repeatedly that you [Sheriff Livingston] cease and desist participating in ICE abuses and that you terminate your contract with ICE. You have ignored these requests and by doing so, have violated the dignity and principles of our City and County.”

CCC Racial Justice Task Force Forum

One of the most significant achievements of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition is the creation of an official CCC Racial Justice Taskforce to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  The 17-member Taskforce, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, has been formed and is conducting a series of fora to meet and hear from residents.

The Taskforce is focused on:

1. Researching and identifying consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;

2. Planning and overseeing implementation of the measures once identified; and

3. Reporting back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

McLaughlin: "Slave labor" used to fight CA wildfires

Our hearts go out to those who have been affected by the wildfires in Sonoma, Napa and elsewhere in California. We have been moved by stories of the generosity and courage shown by first responders, neighbors and strangers alike.

Among some of the more surprising stories to come out of this emergency is the widespread use of prison labor in fire fighting. In the last few weeks, former Richmond mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin has sought to raise critical awareness about prison fire-fighting, which she compares to slave labor. While praising all those who have risked their lives to fight the fires, she has also pointed out that California inmates work for wages as low as pennies a day. Firefighting prisoners earn $2 a day or $1 per hour during active fires.

“They’re volunteering to work, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be getting a fair wage,” McLaughlin said in an interview with Sacramento News & Review. “This is abuse of incarcerated individuals. A dollar an hour to stand at the frontlines of a wildfire is slave labor.”

Gayle favors ending private prisons, and a real minimum wage for all inmate labor, including inmate firefighters. To get involved in Gayle’s campaign, click here.

And to read more, check out the following articles:

Finally, for a list of grassroots organizations providing wildfire and hurricane relief, take a look at this resource from the Sunflower Alliance.

Act Now to Protect Prison Reforms

In 2016, about two-thirds of California voters supported Proposition 57, which helps California reduce its costly overreliance on prisons through parole and sentencing reforms and incentives for rehabilitation. But now the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is proposing regulations that threaten to undercut Prop 57.


The faith community, led by PICO, a network for faith based organizations, is urging Californians to write to the CDCR to amend their regulations before they become final. According to PICO, the three main problems with the proposed regs are:

  • They do not apply new programming credits to people who have been dedicated to rehabilitation for years, or decades. There is no reason why benefits of Prop. 57 should not apply retroactively to cover genuine rehabilitation programming in the past.
  • They exclude young offenders eligible for parole under SB 260 and 261, two laws aimed at creating special parole hearings for young offenders. At its core, Prop. 57 promised to correct over incarceration of young offenders and encourage positive rehabilitative programming—there is no justifiable reason to undermine the positive reforms of SB 260 and 261.
  • They exclude people who are serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for nonviolent crimes. Prop. 57 promised to apply to all nonviolent prisoners.

 

Goodbye DA Peterson -- Justice for Pedie

One immediate positive outcome of the protests around the jail expansion is that our activism put the final nail in the coffin for corrupt Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson.  The San Francisco Chronicle pointed to the anger of protestors  as part of what made his resignation "inevitable."  The Chron reported that in "exchange for his resignation and his no-contest plea to one count of perjury for making false statements on state campaign disclosure forms, state prosecutors dropped the other 12 charges."  The judge sentenced him to 250 hours of community service and three years of probation -- a light sentence for someone who caused so much harm in our community.  We are a year and a half away from the next District Attorney election; in the meantime the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors will appoint a successor.  Progressive organizations have called for a transparent appointment process and recommended that none of the announced candidates for the 2018 election be considered for appointment.  The Supervisors have committed to hold a public forum to discuss the process, which is tentatively scheduled for August 15th.

During his term, DA Peterson refused to prosecute a Richmond police officer in the death of Richard “Pedie” Perez III, who was intoxicated and unarmed when he was shot three times by a police officer in Richmond.  His family continues to organize in Pedie's memory, pushing for greater accountability for police who use force under questionable circumstances.  Specifically they are organizing in favor of a bill that would require an independent investigation of any situation where a police officer kills or seriously harms a person. 

It's Not Just That Mark Peterson Is A Crook...

By Mike Parker

Even the Contra Costa Times is calling for Contra Costa  District Attorney Mark Peterson’s resignation or removal.  He illegally diverted $66,000 from his campaign fund for personal use.  He lied on sworn  statements he filed.  As many have pointed out he prosecutes people who have stolen far less and who have not violated the public trust.  And all of this while making a salary of $300,000 per year. Most people who are caught embezzling money do not get to keep their job.

This highlights the gross injustice of what we call our “justice system.”  Mark Peterson’s career as DA may be toast, but replacing him with a like-minded DA who has not been caught just maintains the unfair justice system.  In the 2018t election we need a DA whose main campaign promise is that he will go after the bank executives who are fleecing poor people, the managements of the refineries who make unsafe decisions and the police and other government officials who use their authority to abuse people.

At the same time the DA must take a different approach to the crimes that come from poverty and youthful mistaken decisions.   There are actually DAs who take this approach.  Going viral right now is a TED talk by a Boston prosecutor Adam Foss.  It is worth the time to hear how we can use government to fix some of our problems.

Services Not Cells

Livingston.jpgThe fight against the Sheriff’s $95 million West County Detention Center expansion is growing, with electeds     such as State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia joining cities such as Richmond and El Cerrito in opposing the plan.

What’s a better use of $95 million? How about more funding for programs for young people, expanded mental health care and additional job training programs? If you agree, you are no alone – in fact you are in the vast majority. A recent survey of voters in Contra Costa County found that seven in ten voters support shifting investment from the local sheriff’s department to community reinvestment policies: “Voters strongly support an array of community reinvestment policies which emphasize access to health care services; increased access to early education and after-school programs; and employment opportunities for the most vulnerable, including communities of color, foster youth, low-income families, and the formerly incarcerated.”

Although the CCC Board of Supervisors voted in February in favor of the jail expansion, they don’t have the money for it. The county would need to pay at least $25 million, and are relying on the state to come up with the rest of the funding.  So it is applying for a $70 million grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections.

Please consider signing a petition to the Board of State and Community Corrections.