Who are we?

We are a coalition of organizations and community members joining together to fight the construction of a new unit at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County.

What’s going on? 

While Alameda County ranks as the 17th largest county in the nation, Santa Rita Jail ranks as the 5th largest jail facility in the nation, with three housing units sitting empty. As crime rates and the jail population steadily decrease, Sheriff Ahern is leasing dozens of empty jail beds to Monterey and San Mateo counties in order to generate funds, thus turning the imprisonment of majority Black, Latino/a, poor, and homeless Californians into a profit.

On top of this, last fall the Sheriff applied for and was granted a $54 million jail construction funding award from SB 863 to build a new, 30,000 sq. ft. mental health unit. In order for the Sheriff to have access to this award, the county the jail is built in needs to provide a 10% matching grant. This means Alameda County would need to spend $7.3 million of its general fund helping to build this additional unit.  

But isn’t mental health important? Don’t we want to make sure people have the services they need?

Yes! Mental health services are critical, and we absolutely want to make sure we have well-funded, effective, community-based programs for our families, neighbors, and friends. Mental health in a jail, prison, or any other kind of cage is an oxymoron because they only exacerbate mental health issues. Jails are by design dehumanizing, isolating, and violent places that traumatize and terrorize individuals. Constructing a new unit does not fix these problems — they simply paint over them.

No only are in-jail services ineffective at providing mental health services, they are more expensive. At least 85% of people imprisoned in Santa Rita qualify for Medi-Cal and Medicaid, but mental health and substance use treatment services provided in jails are much more expensive for counties since people automatically lose health insurance coverage when they enter a jail. Thus, nearly all of the cost of medical, mental health, and substance use treatment in a jail is assumed by the County. By contrast, with recent changes in federal law, Counties can now get a substantial portion of the cost of in-community mental health and substance treatment covered by the federal and state governments.

Lastly, poor people should not have to go to jail to receive essential services. Roughly 20-25% or the jail population have some form of documented mental illness — instead of investing in mental health services in the community, the County would be making it so that in order to receive services for mental illness, you need to be in jail.

Sold? Want to get more involved?

We meet every Thursday from 5-6pm at the Ella Baker Center in downtown Oakland (1970 Broadway, Suite 1125).

Email tash@ellabakercenter.org to get on our email list-serv or for more information!