MARTINEZ, Calif. - The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has approved spending nearly $2 million of CARES Act funding to hire 24 sheriff’s deputies to support mental health services.
After roughly eight hours of debate on Tuesday, which included public comment from citizens against the idea, the board voted 4-1 to approve the funding to add the deputies to the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials said the hires would include 23 deputies and one lieutenant, and would support mental health services at the county jail in Martinez. The addition of the deputies would allow for increased visitation, give inmates more time out of their cells, and allow for inmates to be escorted to appointments.
Supervisor Candace Andersen said the county also approved approximately $2.5 million to add 29 positions to Contra Costa Health Services. Those staffers would provide the mental health services to inmates.
“We have been working on improving the care and mental health care of inmates in our custody and control,” she said. “While they are incarcerated we want to make sure we give them the very best treatment, the very best health care, so that when they leave upon re-entry into the community, they will be in a much better place.”
Andersen noted that 24 deputies sounds like a high number, but said three to four deputies are need per shift across a 24 hour day.
Whether the decision is the best use of funds is up for debate. Gigi Crowder, Executive Director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Contra Costa, said the money should not be used to hire more deputies, but rather for preventative measures to keep people out of jail in the first place.
“Since we have been fighting for better services for people living with mental health challenges… it was devastating,” Crowder said.
The board’s decision comes amid recent community protests to defund the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and reallocate money to other resources.
“It was the wrong decision and also I always speak to the racial disparities. If you start looking at who's incarcerated, whether it’s with a mental health challenge or not, you see too many brown and black people that are incarcerated,” Crowder said.
Andersen said the board of supervisors understands the community’s concerns and said there is more to do. She said the board is committed to providing services outside of the jail too.
Contra Costa County officials said the money for the CARES Act, which is meant for COVID-19 relief, can be used to fund existing public health and public safety costs. The county pointed to the sheriff’s department and health department taking precautions to prevent a major outbreak of COVID-19 in their jails.
A statement from Supervisor Karen Mitchoff reads:
“The Sheriff has assured us of the need for the 24 additional deputies to enhance mental health services in our detention facilities. I am confident, based on our County Administrator’s recommendation, that Cares Act funding can be used to fund these positions. Criteria for utilizing these funds includes the work done by county corrections staff enforcing compliance with public health precautions in the facilities such as testing, isolating, monitoring, and protecting both inmates and corrections facility staff from exposure to COVID 19.”
It's unclear the hiring process for the deputies and mental health staffers will begin.