A couple of weeks ago I posted about the “known unknowns”: the situation in county jails. I don’t think that the cloud of ignorance over infections, illnesses, and deaths in hundreds of facilities (some as big as prisons) is coincidental. I’ve already mentioned the concept of agnotology–the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data–and I think that, when problems are prioritized, knowledge about them is also gathered and shared.
We have an opportunity to press the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for some answers, because they have just announced an emergency meeting scheduled for this Thursday, July 16 at 10:00 a.m. At the meeting they plan to decide whether to give $15 million of the total $58.6 million of federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to “quickly leverage existing contracts that can provide emergency housing” for individuals being released from state prison due to COVID-19. You can find the full proposal here; the gist of it is as follows:
In May, the BSCC’s CESF application for $58.5 million was approved. In June, the BSCC launched a dedicated CESF email address to seek input on how the funds should be used, established a 30-day public comment period that concluded July 12, and staff committed to sharing those results with the Board at the September Board meeting. In the weeks following the June Board meeting, however, the Administration identified an urgent need to provide housing to individuals being released from CDCR due to COVID-19. As many as 8,000 individuals with less than a year left on their sentences could be eligible for release by the end of August. There is an immediate need for housing to help these people with successful reentry. The Administration has requested a portion of the federal grant to meet those emergency needs.
A CESF award would allow CDCR to immediately leverage existing contracts through the Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming (STOP) to help with emergency housing needs. The STOP system operates in six regional areas statewide, with offices in LA, San Diego, Sacramento, Marin, San Bernardino and Fresno. Each provider contracts to provide step-down services ranging from residential treatment to recovery and reentry housing at the local level. The proposed funding would provide emergency housing and could cover costs associated with increasing housing capacity and providing quality assurance of housing to ensure safe housing standards are implemented.
The Board will have the opportunity to consider the public comment received to determine priorities for the remaining $41.7 million and take further action at the September meeting. Sixty-seven public comments have been received to date from community based organizations, local governments (both city and county), concerned citizens, public and private organizations, law enforcement, and the faith-based community.
This, in itself, might be a good thing–the money will be sorely needed to cushion the path of so many folks who have been incarcerated in an environment that is an anathema to rehabilitation as they make their first steps in a horrible economy. But we must also be mindful of the fact that we don’t actually know what the situation is in jails, and to what extent these funds are needed to put out local COVID fires on the county level. In any case, if you want to chime in and make your opinions known at the meeting tomorrow, here’s all the info you need to attend the emergency meeting. I’m not sure I can make it, but if I could, my priority would be to comment on the fact that BSCC must be the “responsible adult” and liaise between the counties to create a uniform, informative reporting platform for all the jails in California. We cannot solve a problem we know so little about.
Important postscript: The last few weeks have made the question of school reopening into yet another partisan screeching war lacking any nuance. While we have proof (not unambiguous, because this virus is a shapeshifter when it comes to data) that indiscriminate school reopening without social distancing measures can be dangerous, we also have proof that early education centers (daycares and preschools) that have rigorous sanitation and distancing protocols in place have not contributed to the spikes we are seeing (in fact, many of them were operating for months, for children of first responders, without seeing positive infections.) The most shrill, uncompromising voices for not opening schools come from what some might consider “my” side of the political map, and almost without exception from people who (1) don’t have kids (2) don’t teach kids and (3) don’t work in K-12 school administration. I’m noticing that these posts, invariably strewn with expletives about the selfishness of opening schools, are harvesting “likes” aplenty, because apparently wanting children to be properly educated and socialized, regardless of their class or wealth, is suddenly no longer a progressive priority, and wanting abuse, neglect, and household poverty to be detected and addressed is tantamount to being a loathsome Trumper. There are many good and knowledgeable people in school administration–some of them are good friends of mine–and they report so much uncertainty and efforts to do the right thing, precisely because they are exposed to the downsides of multiple options. There’s complicated choreography and architecture and proper messaging that needs to be done. I don’t have the answer to the difficult questions (and anyone who claims they have the perfect solution is either lying or ignorant), but I will tell you this: everything you’ve seen from me in the last three weeks—TV appearances, radio appearances, newspaper stories, dozens of posts with primary data analysis, this morning’s op-ed in the Chronicle, the open letter, the press conference speech–everything that I have done to try and save lives behind bars–has been brought to you by my son’s preschool, which has been open now for three weeks, and thank goodness for that. To their great credit, they took on an enormous amount of work and created sanitation protocols, symptom checking lines, pick-up and drop-off routines, and rigorous cohorting, so that I can write this post and you can read it. Working parents are part of the economy and part of the community. When we are full-time caregivers for our children, we are excluded from contributing to our communities in other ways. You might want to think of that and square the struggle to stop the prison outbreak with other progressive sensibilities before you exhort your local government to make decisions that lack nuance, ignore externalities (to teachers as well as students and families.) For more on why it is important to say this, read here.