MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston's proposal to more than double his department's budget, including an expansion of the county jail in Richmond, drew sharp criticism from several speakers at a county meeting Friday.
About 75 people attended the meeting of the Contra Costa Community Corrections Partnership to discuss spending plans associated with a new state law that shifts the burden of rehabilitating and monitoring low-level parolees from the state to counties. Most speakers questioned the premise that an expansion in jails and overall law enforcement budget was the right way to invest the infusion of state money associated with the new law.
"AB109 is about evidence-based strategies; yet we are just seeing huge numbers for jail and other expansion," said Eli Moore, of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based policy development organization. "This precludes evidence-based strategies for improvement."
Immigrant-advocacy groups were especially critical of Livingston's proposed $9.87 million budget for 2012-13.
"Our major concern is the expansion of facilities and beds," said the Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. "It is accepting failure."
Assistant Sheriff Matthew Schuler defended the budget proposal, saying "we realize this is a large number. We think this is what we need."
Schuler said the sheriff needs $2.9 million for a 150-bed expansion at the West Contra
"We've done a great job of being fiscally responsible," Schuler said. "The sheriff has a responsibility to keep the community safe."
Lee also complained that the sheriff's cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has led to separations among more than 1,000 families with undocumented members.
Several other speakers questioned the sheriff's policy of keeping undocumented inmates in 48-hour "holds," which allows authorities to hold inmates for an additional 48 hours beyond their custody stint for federal officials to check immigration status.
Richmond resident Marilyn Langlois asked whether the sheriff would cease the holds to "free up space."
"No," Shuler said. "It's the sheriff's stance that he will keep them in custody (for 48 hours)."
Contra Costa County leads the Bay Area in holding deportable immigrants for federal agents, according to statistics from ICE. More than 1,600 people have been deported after agents picked them up from Contra Costa County jails since April 2010.
Livingston has said he is complying with federal law and that opponents should seek change at the congressional level.
AB 109 changes the law to realign certain responsibilities for lower-level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from the state to local jurisdictions. With persistently high recidivism rates in California set to become more of a county matter, a greater investment must be made in re-entry programs, speakers said.
Community-based facilities, where a variety of services are available to newly released parolees, and other services should take priority over building jail capacity, they argued.
"It's imperative that we get one-stop centers," said Sammy Luna, of the Safe Return Project. "The first 72 hours after release are the most important."
Schuler stressed that the budget proposal was inflated by one-time, urgent investments like the jail space and the bus.
The county is receiving $19 million in state funding associated with AB 109.
Once the seven-member partnership approves a budget, it goes to Contra Costa supervisors for approval.