Alameda County Has Power to Save Lives inside Santa Rita Jail


April 28, 2020


Alameda County Has Power to Save Lives inside Santa Rita Jail

Supervisors to Postpone Vote on Sheriff’s $106 million Annual Funding Request


Press Contacts:

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center,

510-285-8227 (NOT FOR PUBLICATION)


Amber Akemi Piatt, Human Impact Partners,

510-473-2248 (NOT FOR PUBLICATION)


Oakland, CA—As the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the Bay Area and communities across the globe, advocates continue to organize demanding the release of incarcerated people inside Santa Rita Jail and in opposition to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) under-radar attempt to increase his budget by $106 million per year for new jail staff.


Organizers, health advocates, and community members with the Audit Ahern Coalition planned to address the Alameda County Board of Supervisors during today’s Board meeting urging them to deny any additional funding to Sheriff Greg Ahern. However, the vote is set to be postponed until a later date due to Board President Richard Valle being absent after experiencing a death in the family.


“We express our sincere condolences to Board President Richard Valle and his family. We are holding him in our prayers,” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Manager for the Ella Baker Center.


As this public health crisis ravages through communities and behind bars, there is a need for increased protective equipment for healthcare workers, food and housing security, and swift action to release people inside Santa Rita and save lives. In such a time of desperate need, advocates stress that county officials prioritize the health and safety of residents by denying ACSO’s request for additional staff, releasing people from Santa Rita Jail, and investing in unmet housing and healthcare needs for county residents.


As of April 27, 34 people incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail have tested positive for COVID-19. This is a pattern of how COVID-19 has hit jails and prisons across the country, such as Cook County Jail and Rikers Island. While county officials have released one-third of the population inside Santa Rita, people still in custody are at grave risk of contracting COVID-19 with a lack of protective equipment, enforcement of social distancing protocols, and limited testing inside the jail.


A person currently incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail anonymously shared details about their health condition inside: “I have lung disease. I could die immediately, maybe within a week or two after contracting coronavirus. If they want me to wait to show symptoms, it will be too late.”


A recent ACLU study shows that decarceration is imperative for saving lives nationally, both inside jails and beyond — their epidemiological analysis shows that failures to adequately decarcerate will double the national COVID-19 death toll. In order to protect public health and prevent this outbreak from claiming lives inside, the District Attorney, Sheriff, and Board of Supervisors need to take swift action to release people inside Santa Rita Jail.


“As we all do our part to flatten the curve by sheltering in place and taking necessary safety precautions, people currently incarcerated at Santa Rita are unable to practice physical distancing or protect themselves from this virus. We need real proactive public health solutions to this public health crisis, including releasing people from Santa Rita Jail and investing in health-affirming resources, not more jail staff. We cannot wait for this pandemic to get worse before county officials take action,” said Amber Akemi Piatt, Health Instead of Punishment Program Director at Human Impact Partners, a national public health organization headquartered in Oakland.


The Audit Ahern coalition was formed in 2017 and has been demanding a transparent fiscal and performance audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. It is currently comprised of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Urban Peace Movement, Causa Justa Just Cause, Public Health Justice Collective, Restore Oakland, Human Impact Partners, American Friends Service Committee, SURJ - Bay Area, APTP, ACLU- Norcal, Justice Reinvestment Coalition, Unitarian Church of Oakland, and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.