Two top Contra Costa leaders -- Richmond's police chief and the county sheriff -- are clashing over a plan to use state money to expand the West County Jail, which holds county inmates but is also the Bay Area's only overnight federal immigration detention center.
Sheriff David Livingston wants to expand the county jail at Richmond's Point Pinole by 150 beds to accommodate the statewide "realignment" shifting low-level criminal offenders from state prisons to county supervision.
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus is among the critics publicly questioning Livingston's proposal and asking the sheriff for more information, including how much jail space is taken up holding immigrants under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"Why should we even be leasing bed space to ICE or other state/federal law enforcement agencies if we have too little space to accommodate our own county-convicted individuals?" Magnus asked last week in an email retort to Livingston's plea for political support for the jail expansion.
The long-simmering debate comes ahead of an important 8 a.m. Thursday county meeting to decide if the jail expansion can go forward. Magnus drew applause from prison reform and immigrant advocates at a crowded community meeting last month when he asked the Sheriff's Office for more information on the expansion and why it is needed. This week, he said his questions still haven't been answered.
Every California county has such a committee because of a 2011 law shifting to counties the responsibility for supervising low-level offenders from overcrowded state prisons. The realignment began in October.
Livingston has said the shift forces him seek $2.9 million for a jail addition in Richmond, but opponents want the county to use more of the money for rehabilitation and one-stop help centers to keep people out of jails. Immigrant advocates also say the sheriff's close relationship with federal immigration enforcers is crowding Contra Costa's jails with illegal immigrants held for deportation.
Livingston should "stop incarcerating people who pose no threat to the community, and that includes undocumented residents" who haven't committed serious crimes, said Adam Kruggel, director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. It has held vigils outside the Richmond jail and its members have crowded county meetings.
"It's creating a fiscal crisis, a huge community crisis," he said. "It's a problem that the sheriff has a lot of power to help resolve."
Livingston has rebuffed weeks of criticism without revealing the information advocates have requested.
"Some citizen groups in the County's West end are opposing any increase in jail space, instead favoring early release of all offenders," Livingston wrote in a July 31 email to about three dozen local law enforcement leaders asking for their support. "They are also pressing for me to stop 'cooperating' with ICE under Secure Communities, something I have refused to do. I have met with those groups but we respectfully disagree."
The Secure Communities fingerprints program, which is in effect in all of California's counties, alerts federal agents whenever a deportable immigrant is booked in a county jail. Contra Costa County also has a unique contract with ICE allowing the federal agency to put its own detainees in the Richmond jail, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
The immigration agency has no overnight beds of its own in the Bay Area and uses the Contra Costa jail to hold immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. The next closest jails that have such agreements are in Sacramento and Yuba counties.
The contract amount and how many immigrants are routinely held in Richmond is not information the sheriff's department has shared. This newspaper has filed a public records request with the federal government requesting the contract.
Magnus also asked how much bed space is used by ICE, saying the information should come "before we vote on a budget that would dramatically add bed space" and cost millions.
The role of immigration enforcement in the jail expansion is just one of many questions that local leaders are in the dark about, said former Antioch Police Chief Jim Hyde.
"The question is, do they have enough room? No one knows," said Hyde, who was Antioch's chief from 2006 to early 2011.
Hyde said that "apparently a consultant's report was done" for the sheriff's department on the expansion need but hasn't been shared outside the department.
"Chris Magnus is asking the questions that a lot of chiefs are asking," Hyde said. "The jail facility adjoins his community. He has a right to ask those questions."
What: Contra Costa County's Community Corrections Partnership is expected vote on allocating a $19 million grant from the state "realignment" plan to shift low-level offenders from state prisons to county custody. Among the proposals is a $2.9 million expansion of the West County Jail in Richmond.
When: 8 to 10 a.m. Thursday
Where: 50 Douglas Drive, in Martinez