Contra Costa County has an extremely rare opportunity to make historic improvements to its broken criminal justice system. We have the resources available to test what would happen if we made deep investments in people by creating access to employment, housing, and services for every one of the 400 or so people with past felonies coming home under AB109.
It does not make sense to use these rare funds to simply expand jail facilities and replicate a system that is widely recognized as not working.
In October 2011, AB109 or "realignment" took effect, and the county became responsible for incarcerating and supervising an increased number of individuals with nonserious, nonsexual, and nonviolent offenses.
Realignment followed a 30-year escalation of mass incarceration and prison expansion, the cost of which became unbearable and forced the state to change direction.
The legislators writing AB109 hoped that the counties could figure out a way to do what it could not: reduce recidivism and find more effective ways of responding to crime.
With this shift in state policy, Contra Costa County will receive $19 million this year to fulfill this responsibility.
This is the first time the county has had significant funding available to implement policies and programs detailed in its Re-entry Strategic Plan, a detailed, 67-page plan developed with the input of more than 250 stakeholders and adopted by the Board of Supervisors (www.cocoreentry.org).
The lead agencies in the county justice system are in the process of reforming the bail process, reforms that in other counties have reduced the pretrial inmate population to less than 60 percent.
The county has also hired a re-entry coordinator to assist with implementation of the Re-entry Strategic Plan.
Finally, the Community Advisory Board on realignment has researched and recommended strategies for housing, employment, mental health and integrated services proven to reduce the rate of people re-offending.
This is the moment to invest in people by supporting these promising new approaches, rather than recommit the county to the costly continuation of a system proven to reproduce itself.
Years into the future, let us hope that 2012 is looked back on as the moment Contra Costa County embarked on a path toward a justice system that is safer, fairer, and more effective.
Please join us at the Community Corrections Partnerships meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday at 50 Douglas St. in Martinez.
Eli Moore is program director of the Pacific Institute; Adam Kruggel is executive director of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization; LaVern Vaughn is community researcher for Safe Return Project.