As COVID-19 Reaches Santa Rita Jail, Decarceration Becomes More Urgent

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

As COVID-19 Reaches Santa Rita Jail, Decarceration Becomes More Urgent

Press Contacts:

Terence Long, Ella Baker Center; terence@ellabakercenter.org (510) 936-0344

Oakland, CA— According to Alameda County jail officials, a nurse in Santa Rita Jail has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the first positive test in the jail. The positive case follows at least one confirmed exposure and several possible exposures at the jail by an arrestee and sheriff deputy. For the last two weeks, advocates with the Audit Ahern Coalition and healthcare labor unions have been calling for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, and Alameda County Board of Supervisors to reduce the risk of this pandemic for those incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail, their families as well as the broader Alameda County community. 

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, county officials have released more than 400 vulnerable people from Santa Rita Jail in the last week. Those released mostly include people with low-level offenses, as well as those who had 45 days or less to serve in jail, and those with underlying chronic health needs. As of March 25, 2020, there are 2,217 people still in custody at Santa Rita Jail who are at grave risk of being infected by COVID-19. Given what public health officials have warned, the consequence of county inaction on this urgent matter will be grave. 

Advocates are also urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to vehemently deny the Sheriff's Office $85 million annual funding request to hire hundreds of additional jail staff. “During this crisis, it's asinine and gravely irresponsible to undermine public safety by asking the county to fund $255 million over three years for 370 new jail staff,” said Ella Baker Center Organizing Manager Jose Bernal. “We need to bring people home and invest in healthcare, not jails.”

The health and safety of all incarcerated individuals living in cramped quarters and frontline health care workers must be an urgent priority to prevent the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Any policy or budget decision that prioritizes incarceration over healthcare will cause this public health crisis to worsen.

Advocates are calling for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney’s Office, and Board of Supervisors to take prompt action:

  1. Alameda County must halt the intake and/or transfer of adults and youth into all county correctional facilities.
  2. Alameda County must immediately release those incarcerated from all correctional facilities, prioritizing the immediate release of those on pre-trial and people most vulnerable to COVID-19.
  3. Alameda County must meet the immediate health and sanitation needs of people who are currently incarcerated by providing protective equipment to all those incarcerated and jail staff. 
  4. Alameda County must deny the Sheriff’s Office $85 million budget proposal and prioritize all investments towards health-affirming resources in the community.

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 Services Committee, SURJ - Bay Area, APTP, ACLU- Norcal, Justice Reinvestment Coalition, Unitarian Church of Oakland, and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.

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