A Call for Transparency in Alameda County

The safety of the local public is jeopardized by the many wrongdoings of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department (ACSD). It is no secret that Sheriff Ahern’s time in office has been marked by multiple scandals and controversies. The ACSD has continued to create new profit motives that link incarceration with members of the community. Such blatant harm infringes upon the civil rights of some of the most vulnerable people living in our community especially those imprisoned in county jails.

Photo credit: Angelica Ekeke

As an intern at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights I am fortunate to work on social justice campaigns that improve the effectiveness of decriminalizing communities to maintain public safety for all. My experience growing up as a young African American woman in the Bay Area had a direct impact on my awareness of the harmful effects the criminal justice system can have on black and brown communities, and more specifically women, in Alameda County.

On January 4th, 2018, six pregnant women filed a civil suit in a federal court against Alameda County Sheriff, Gregory Ahern, and other jail officials for mistreatment and abuse. This lawsuit brought to light the negative and harmful impact of unrecognized gendered trauma and abuse sanctioned by the guards and staff.  It demonstrated the lack of accountability to ensure that our community members are safe during incarceration, particularly women who have been raped or assaulted during their imprisonment.

Photo credit: Angelica Ekeke

Another example is  the dramatic rise of “gassing attacks” at the Santa Rita Jail, like the one in April 2017 which found deputies responsible for multiple felonies.  Gassing is prison term for throwing bodily fluids.

Since 2015, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department has paid out 51 civil lawsuits totaling $15 million. Lawsuits included reports of wrongful deaths, excessive force with and without weapons, and abuse and battery. The Alameda County Sheriff‘s department can no longer hide their wrongdoings toward the community and those in custody.

Alameda County officials could help change the trajectory of the lives of many, however the county has taken a tough stand against investing in effective jail reform hurting our entire community. Neighboring counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara provide great examples of processes of fiscal transparency and structural policy transformation. For instance, in San Francisco County, the Public Defender’s Office created a Pretrial Diversion Project, which slashed jail stays, a key element in the move to reduce the jail population and implement cutbacks in sheriff department spending. In a similar way, Santa Clara County has commendably spent about $375 million on efficient jail reform and community-based services and programs. These services and programs focus on important measures such as bail reform, jail population reduction and creating mental health programs and facilities.

The manifest failings of the unjust programs and discriminatory policies administered by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department are not just merely harmful to the community; they are inhumane. We intend to show Alameda County’s elected officials that the Sheriff’s Department is not above the law. The county needs to provide fiscal accountability, and adequately respond to the community’s pleas for help. We demand a full audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. The audit will allow the county to effectively fulfill the promise of justice reinvestment initiatives that will maximize the potential of ending economic dependence of criminal justice systems and avert future growth of prison populations.

Photo credit: Angelica Ekeke

It’s time for the grassroot voices of community to be heard––for their untold stories to be revealed––and for the Sheriff’s Department to be held accountable for their actions. Local residents know how to keep our government officials accountable. Our laws and regulations entitle us to check their work and keep them honest. However, in order for real accountability to surface, Alameda County County Supervisors must attend to the allegations of corruption against the department with full transparency and true concern for the safety of all members of our local community regardless of age, race, or class.

Photo credit: Angelica Ekeke