OAKLAND (BCN)— The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at a lengthy meeting today to spend $117 million to make capital improvements and improvements in mental health services at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
The improvements were opposed by a large group of activists who alleged that the project will rob resources from community programs that keep people afloat during the economic crisis and said incarceration creates and exacerbates mental and physical health problems.
They said Alameda County should prioritize funding community-based solutions and diversion programs instead of pouring millions of dollars into what they described as "mass incarceration."
Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi said the improvements aren't really an expansion project because the jail, which was designed in 1980, will wind up with 18 fewer beds than it currently has.
Muranishi said the project "will improve safety both for staff and for those who are incarcerated."
The state will contribute $54 million of the project's cost to improve services for Santa Rita inmates who have mental health issues.
Supervisor Wilma Chan said she has some reservations about the jail project but voted for it because 1,100 inmates are referred to the mental health wing every month and they need to have the best services possible.
However, Chan said she sympathizes with critics of the jail project, saying that, "So many social service programs have been cut in recent years that it caused a lot of incarceration that wasn't necessary."
Zaineb Mohammed with Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said the dozens of community members who testified and who opposed the expansion, called for investment in mental health treatment within the community rather than in jails.
Supervisor Keith Carson said, "There are an increasing number of people at the jail who need emotional, psychological and behavioral care and we have to respond to them and provide that care."
Carson said the improvement project "is not the perfect model, but it's a step to a model that's more humane."
Carson said he wants to end the "revolving door" in which many inmates commit new crimes and return to jail shortly after they're released.
He said he hopes, "The revolving door moves slower and slower and ends in the community" with inmates getting jobs and support services.
The jail project is expected to be completed in 2019.