No new cells for West County

By Lisa Dyas February 15, 2017

By John Gioia, Jane Fischberg and Claudia Jimenez

Contra Costa County needs greater investment in mental health treatment, job training, affordable housing, and youth services to help keep people from becoming incarcerated, not a larger West County jail.

Approving expensive new jail construction runs counter to the more fiscally responsible and humane strategy of investing greater resources in prevention and rehabilitation services. These cost-effective measures help keep people out of jail, reduce reoffending and improve public safety.

The recent 4-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors to spend $25 million in county funds and apply for $70 million from the state to add 416 high-security beds at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond comes at a time of budgetary uncertainty, with the county facing possible federal funding cutbacks from the new presidential administration.

The Prison Law Office, a well-respected nonprofit public interest law firm specializing in jail system reform, wrote to the Board of Supervisors  that “The county would better serve its population by expanding efforts to reduce the jail population instead of expanding the capacity of its jails.”

We could not agree more.

The county’s focus should be on spending our limited tax dollars on programs that are proven to keep people out of jail and help previously incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter their communities after serving time. This approach ultimately costs less and cuts crime.

The approved jail plan calls for spending $2 million more per year to hire additional sheriff deputies to staff an expanded jail. Those dollars should instead be invested in expanding programs proven to reduce incarceration, such as substance abuse treatment and Behavioral Health Court, which provides vital mental health treatment to people with chronic mental illness.

This is a more cost-effective and humane approach.

Another way to reduce our jail population and improve public safety is to reform our bail system, which currently uses the ability to pay for bail as the primary factor in deciding who should remain incarcerated while awaiting trial.

A wiser system, gaining popularity, is to base incarceration while awaiting trial on the risk of reoffending or fleeing. Approximately 70 percent of those in county jail haven’t been convicted and are awaiting trial, many for lower level non-violent drug or property offenses.

Also, the sheriff can create capacity in the West County jail instead of building new cells. Nearly 200 individuals are being held for possible deportation at the West County jail under a sheriff’s contract with the U.S. Department of Justice to house ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees.

That’s 20 percent of the jail’s capacity that could be used to meet the county’s needs, not the federal government’s.

Contra Costa is the only Bay Area county with such a contract. This cooperation with ICE should end. It erodes our hard-working immigrant community’s trust in local law enforcement and county government.

Health and social service community agencies report that many immigrants have cancelled appointments out of anxiety, fear of deportation, or mistrust — not getting critical care.

Sheriff David Livingston’s cooperation with ICE, and traveling to Washington D.C. and meeting with controversial Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the day of the Board of Supervisor’s jail vote have further eroded community trust.

We can do better.

The community has a chance to express its opposition to this unwise jail expansion project when the issue comes back to the Board of Supervisors after the state decides whether to support the funding request.

Please speak out in favor of policies that invest our tax dollars in effective prevention programs, not costly jail construction.

John Gioia is a Contra Costa supervisor. Jane Fischberg is CEO of Rubicon Programs. Claudia Jimenez is with the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition.

This commentary appeared in the East Bay Times on February 14, 2017

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The Crisis in Black Education | Early Disparities

By Lisa Dyas February 3, 2017

This February, we will share a series of posts examining the education system, and the crucial role education has played in the lives of African Americans. We hope these posts will increase awareness, spark conversations, encourage self-reflection and lead to deeper explorations about the education system’s responsibility to a fair and just society. We hope that you will join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

The Crisis in Black Education | Early Disparities

by Jane Fischberg

Education continues to be an important strategy to achieve economic mobility, and gain access to higher quality of life.  However, 60 years after the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision that desegregated schools, there are still gross inequities along racial lines.  Research on disparities and long-term outcomes for African American children expose the bleak truth: African Americans are disproportionately shut out of meaningful educational opportunities.

African American students are less likely than white students to have access to rigorous readiness curriculum -- and they are more likely be suspended from school for the same infractions,  and to be taught by less experienced teachers, according to comprehensive data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. 

One of the striking facts to emerge from the data is that disparities start as early as early childhood education (ECE) programs.  

African American children from low-income homes tend to be in ECE classrooms with lower ratings of instructional support.  Students of color are more likely than their peers to attend schools with a higher concentration of first-year and inexperienced teachers. Teachers in predominately black and Latino schools are paid less than their counterparts, resulting in high turnover.  As a result, too many African American children enter kindergarten a year or more behind in academic and social-emotional skills.  Starting out school from behind can trap students in a cycle of continuous catch-up in their learning.

In ECE programs, African American children are 3.6 times more likely to face suspension than their white peers.  Black boys are 19 percent of preschool boys, but represent 45 percent of male preschool children who are suspended.  Similarly, Black girls are 20 percent of female preschool enrollment, but experience 54 percent of suspensions among preschool girls. This phenomenon can send the message to children that they are “bad” and not welcomed at school.  Black boys, especially, suffer, because this feeds the dominant cultural narrative that Black men are dangerous.  This biased approach to discipline can trigger a lifetime of identity issues and disenfranchisement.

Access to high-quality ECE can boost cognitive and social skills in children, help mitigate for disparities in early learning experiences and the effects of childhood trauma, and improve long-term economic and life indicators for low-income African American children and other children of color.  These are all critical benefits that can help break the cycle of poverty and reduce inequality over the long run. 

If you would like to find out what you can do to increase access to quality ECE, connect with the National Black Child Development Institute – you can track its efforts to support federal, state and local initiatives to provide increasing numbers of children with access to quality early education and care, and learn how to add your voice.

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Celebrating Black History Month

By Lisa Dyas February 2, 2017

Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History established Negro History Week in 1926 to celebrate and elevate the achievements of African Americans. Negro History Week took root in cities across the country and by the 1960's had become a month-long celebration. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford was the first U.S. president to recognize Black History Month nationally and hailed it as an opportunity to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

From its beginnings, Dr. Woodson and his colleagues provided a theme for Negro History Week as a starting point for shared learning. Past themes have included Civilization: A World Achievement in 1928, Fulfilling America’s Promise: Black History Month in 1975, and this year's theme, The Crisis in Black Education. This February, we will share a series of posts examining the education system, and the crucial role education has played in the lives of African Americans. We hope these posts will increase awareness, spark conversations, encourage self-reflection and lead to deeper explorations about the education system’s responsibility to a fair and just society.

Rubicon intentionally affirms the struggle for social justice and parity by African Americans because it actively dismantles systemic racism.  When we invest in truth telling to change attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs; when we correct even one misrepresentation or misunderstanding of who contributed to, shaped, and built this nation;  when we shine a light on systems that contribute to and perpetuate the cycle of disparity, disenfranchisement, and unequal access; when we engage in these acts, we chip away at systemic racism -- which is inextricably tied to the root cause of poverty.

The voice of our community is invaluable, and we invite you to share your thoughts, observations, and inspirations on Black History Month with us on Facebook and Twitter

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Honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Adrienne Kimball January 14, 2017

button with MLKOn December 4, 1967 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.announced plans for a Poor People’s Campaign.  He called for transformative actions to end poverty. Despite his assassination and deep divisions in the country and movement, the mobilization of poor people continued.
Today we are experiencing poverty and hardship in the midst of unprecedented abundance and record inequality. In the United States, at least 46.5 million people, including 1 of every 5 children, live in poverty. Another 97.3 million are officially designated as low income. This means that nearly one in every two people is poor or low income with most others only an economic or health setback from joining them. Meanwhile, racial and gender inequality remain as deep as ever.
History has shown that a powerful movement requires the involvement and support of all people with an interest in a radically different society—which means nearly everyone. Not only are the poor increasingly drawn from every sector of society, but even those who feel economically secure see that mass poverty and economic hardship amidst such wealth and productive power violates our most sacred values.
2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign launched by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—his last, and in profound ways most far reaching and challenging, campaign. It is important to honor the anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign. Given the conditions of poverty, inequality and injustice we face today, the only genuine way to commemorate the past struggle is to launch a new one.

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Rubicon’s Community Hero

By Lisa Dyas December 7, 2016

Adrienne Kimball, center, with (from left to right) Bruce Ives, Alexandra Bernadotte, Marquise Murphy,  José Quiñonez and Daniel Lurie at the Tipping Point Annual Awards Breakfast

On December 2, 2016, Tipping Point Community hosted its 10th Annual Awards Breakfast in honor of standout community partners and individuals committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in the Bay Area. It was a morning of reflection — on the uncertainty many feel in the wake of the recent election, and the unifying force we become when we work together for the betterment of our community.

“Amidst all this change, we must demonstrate our values will remain, and I have no better source of hope and optimism than from our honorees here today.” Daniel Lurie, CEO + Founder

Adrienne Kimball received the Community Hero Award for her work at Rubicon Programs, a Tipping Point grantee since 2005, that focuses on transforming individual lives and improving Bay Area communities through jobs, housing and healthcare. Kimball was first introduced to Rubicon because many of her family members sought services at the organization. For seven years, she worked as the organization’s executive assistant, while today, she serves as its culture manager, helping to elevate the voice of the staff and preserve the team’s core values. “It takes a certain mindset to stay in poverty. It’s the mindset that you’re not worth it. That the solutions being offered don’t work, and the solutions that do work aren’t for you,” said Kimball. “Shifting that mindset is how we make progress.”

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