Winning Jobs Not Jails in Alameda County: #Roots2Liberation

This post is part of our #Roots2Liberation blog series highlighting our history and our vision for the future, leading up to our celebration of our 20th anniversary on Thursday, September 8th in downtown Oakland. 

"Which side are you on my people? Which side are you on? We're on freedom's side."

That was the chat that rung out during the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting in March of 2015 as community members, faith leaders, and organizers gathered to demand that 50% of the public safety budget be spent on community-based organizations providing re-entry services for people returning from prison and jail. 

The 50% for Jobs Not Jails campaign, a collaborative effort between the Ella Baker Center and the Alameda County Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, led to Alameda County reallocating millions more dollars towards reentry programs. 

In the past, the Board of Supervisors had allocated more than half of the public safety realignment budget towards the sheriff. 

"We wanted not all of the money to go to the sheriff, we didn't want all of the money going to probation either, or to the District Attorney's office," said Darris Young, a Local Organizer with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We wanted more of the money to go to community-based organizations that deliver employment services, substance abuse counseling services, mental health services. We wanted more of that money to go to housing. All of the services that were necessary to help a man or a woman get back on his or her feet and to reintegrate back into society, not as someone outside of the community, but as someone connected to the community."

The Ella Baker Center teamed up with allies including other grassroots organizers, faith leaders, and community members and organized for months to put pressure on the Board of Supervisors to reinvest in communities instead of continuing to fund systems of punishment. 

On Human Rights Day on December 10th, the Ella Baker Center and our allies at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland gathered in front of the Alameda County Administration building to demand jobs not jails, books not bars, and healthcare not handcuffs. 

Projecting lights onto the building reflecting those slogans, local organizers Maria Dominguez and Darris Young spoke about the challenges formerly incarcerated people face when they are released from prison. 

At the vigil, Andre Wiley, the director of an organization that provides services for formerly incarcerated people, spoke about how essential it is for the county to provide more funding for organizations like his. 

Reverend Jacqueline Duhart from the First Unitarian Church of Oakland emphasized that all people have a right to have a life, and that the people of Alameda County should have a say in how the county's funds are spent. The crowd included congregants of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, students, and members of Black Lives MatterCausa Justa, and Oakland Rising.

In the spring of 2015, the Ella Baker Center and the Alameda County Criminal Justice Reform Coalition peacefully disrupted a Board of Supervisors meeting to demand that county officials enact the demands of the Jobs Not Jails campaign. 

Amidst chants of #JobsNotJails and #SignThePledge from the crowd of 75 community members, five individuals went behind the barrier separating the supervisors from the meeting attendees and asked each supervisor to sign a pledge expressing their support of a Jobs Not Jails budget for Alameda County. 

During the Board of Supervisors vote on March 24th, the supervisors voted to pass a proposal by Supervisor Keith Carson to allocate 50% of the public safety realignment funds towards community-based re-entry programs and services in 2015-16. 

The victory of the Jobs Not Jails campaign meant millions more dollars would go towards re-entry services like education, job training, healthcare, and housing for people coming out of jail. 

In 2016, we worked with allies to build on that win, and the county strengthened its commitment to community reinvestment by againt investing 50% of its public safety realignment funding into re-entry services provided for and by the community. 

The Ella Baker Center looks forward to spreading a jobs not jails, books not bars, and healthcare not handcuffs reinvestment agenda across the country. Learn more about what's coming up next for us by joining us at our 20th anniversary celebration on Thursday, September 8th in Oakland.

Buy your tickets today!