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New county department may help to overhaul justice system


The Board of Supervisors moved forward this week with the creation of a department to assist in a general overhaul of the county’s justice system. It’s an effort to help centralize various programs enacted over the past few years to develop incarceration alternatives while expanding community services to divert people out of the jail system.

A report is expected back in 90 days with an organization and staffing plan for the Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD). It would become a centralized home for various programs created in support of the county’s “Care First, Justice Last” initiative.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told her colleagues she was proud of the work done over the past eight years to support programs searching for alternatives to incarceration.

“But if we stop for a moment of critical reflection, we have to really acknowledge that process is not the same as progress,” Kuehl said. “And what we need now is progress, we need movement. … It’s time to make things happen, and to do that, in my humble opinion, we have to improve our county infrastructure.”

The requested plan will include a blueprint for the activities of various programs that will be under the new agency’s umbrella, including the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, the Jail Closure Implementation Team and the Office of Adult Programs, which will “centralize all prevention, pretrial and reentry services for adults” and include a unit to service “transition-age youth.”

In her motion calling for advancement in creating the JCOD, Kuehl hailed the work already done by the county to begin the process of revamping the justice system. But she said more steps are needed before the process can truly advance.

“Unfortunately, as this hard work has progressed, it has become clear that standing up programs and housing advisory bodies through multiple departments has not integrated service delivery to the extent needed to achieve true justice reform,” the motion states.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger opposed the motion, saying she still had concerns about the framework being proposed for the new agency. But the proposal earned support from the other board members.