Alameda County received $29.2 million for year two of the prison realignment program, which has handed over more than 1,000 state inmates to local supervision.

But it didn't take long for activists to object to the county's plans for the money when it appeared the bulk might be spent on staffing for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and Probation Department.

Critics like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alameda County Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform want to see the county spend the realignment money on community-based organizations to pay for programs that are supposed to keep people from returning to jail, not to pay for more deputies. The coalition is made up of various organizations, including the ACLU, East Bay Community Law Center, Urban Strategies Council and Youth Uprising, that would be hired by the county to run those programs.

"I've been to Santa Rita, and it's a really bad place," said Corey Qualls, who works for a county re-entry program. "Let them do the public safety, and let us help."

The sheriff's office and probation department say they are committed to the same goal as their critics -- working with community-based organizations to reduce recidivism.

However, they asked supervisors to release the money with scant details on how they intended to spend it or why.

Instead, the Community Corrections Partnership committee -- made up of probation, the sheriff and other law enforcement agencies -- submitted a vague three-page outline of three general "guiding goals" for which the realignment money would be used, creating distrust that erupted in November.


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The spending plan was added to the board of supervisors' agenda Nov. 16, just days before the Nov. 20 meeting. That gave the public little more than one full working day's notice and barely fit within the 72-hour notification advance required in the Brown Act.

The county earmarked $4.1 million for community-based providers.

The rest, $25.1 million, would pay for services delivered by probation, the sheriff, the public defender and district attorney's office.

The lack of detail, notice and transparency set off so much opposition that the item was postponed and sent back to the Dec. 13 public protection committee, ¿headed by Supervisor Richard Valle. But the departments once again failed to provide a thorough breakdown of expenses.

"I'm just asking for a budget for how you would use that money," Valle said. "Somewhere there must be an allocation of those funds."

In fact, there was not. The $29.2 million was budgeted by the county administrator and approved by supervisors in the 2012-13 fiscal year county budget. It's like a special pool of money that the departments involved in realignment can pull from as needed.

The probation department is figuring out how to use the money as they go based on lessons learned in year one, Probation Chief LaDonna Harris said. For example, she said during year one of realignment probation put money into a housing program but surveys of about 300 ex-felons coming under county supervision reported that education was their top need. They identified housing as number four.

So that money could have been used better elsewhere, Harris said.

"We want the right services, not just services," she said.

Without data and details it's impossible to know whether Alameda County is using the money for realignment-related costs or to backfill budget deficits, ACLU attorney Micaela Davis said.

"We really haven't seen that analysis," Davis said.

For example, supervisors pledged $4 million in future realignment money to the sheriff's office in July during a budget hearing where Sheriff Greg Ahern warned the board that the $7.5 million his office was asked to cut would have dire consequences, including state receivership if already insufficient staff-to-inmate numbers at Santa Rita and North County jails dropped any farther.

However, the county's jail population dropped by 494 inmates in the past year -- the largest decrease of any jail system in California, according to a Board of State and Community Corrections quarterly survey. ¿The sheriff's office did not respond directly to questions about the apparent discrepancy.

Undersheriff Richard Lucia said the county opened a special unit for realignment felons at Santa Rita, where they are supposed to access programs to prepare them for release.

Realignment can be a positive move toward reducing recidivism, he said. "But it is not one size fits all."

The county could spend more on realignment by letting out more inmates on pretrial releases, day centers and not holding inmates for federal immigration authorities, several groups argued during the December meeting.

Valle sent the item back to the CCP committee for a more detailed spending plan before the supervisors take up the item again in January or February. It is unlikely to include the pretrial releases and day centers critics demanded although Valle said the immigration hold policy should be discussed at a separate meeting.

To view Alameda County's realignment spending plan, go to http://bit.ly/SOu4IN

REALIGNMENT
There were 655 realignment releases under the supervision of the Alameda County probation department as of Dec. 20. The department is hiring as quickly as it can to reduce the ratio of officers to probationers to 50-to-1, which is still 10 more to each probationer than the recommended ratio. It is currently 60-to-1 and that's down from 80-to-1.
Source: Alameda County Probation Chief of Staff Brian Richart