By Erik Galicia
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors authorized the Sheriff’s Department to apply for $3,321,765 in emergency pandemic funding despite heavy mistrust expressed by public commenters.
Funds would be provided through the California Board of State and Community Corrections and are required to be used for pandemic response, with a focus on meeting the reentry needs of previously incarcerated people. The grant allows for spending on overtime pay for reentry program workers, law enforcement and medical personal protective equipment, hiring, pandemic safety supplies, training and addressing the medical needs of inmates.
The grant application was also made available to other branches of the county, such as the Probation Department, the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, and the Riverside University Health System.
“It was made available to all of our county partners,” Misha Graves, Sheriff’s Department correctional chief deputy, said Jan. 26. “No one decided to participate. We were designated as the Sheriff’s Department, because we were interested, to take the lead for this grant.”
The award would require that a minimum of 20% of funding be allocated to non-governmental community-based organizations that provide services in the county. Public commenters said 80% of the grant going to the Sheriff’s Department is too much, arguing the over $3.3 million increase to an already inflated law enforcement budget would be done under the guise of reentry services.
“The only reentry services they truly provide are through over-policing and racial profiling and locking up more people,” public commenter Erica Smith said. “That would be a reentry into Robert Presely (Detention Center).”
Smith echoed several public commenters who argued funds given to the Sheriff’s Department would only go toward the purchase of more riot gear and enable the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people. Funding for reentry should go to community organizations addressing mental health and substance abuse issues, she said.
Dawn Jones, the Sheriff’s Department’s programs supervisor, called public commenters’ claims that the department provides no reentry services untrue.
According to Jones, much of the grant would be allocated to the Sheriff’s Inmate Training and Education Bureau, which administers inmate guidance and substance abuse treatment programs at the county’s five correctional facilities and has contracts with the county’s social services departments. Inmates would also be given personal protective equipment upon their release.
“The mission for (the bureau) is to lower recidivism and work directly with inmates that are transitioning out of custody into society,” she said. “We do plan on implementing these funds, should they be awarded, toward individuals with individualized plans, to address their individual needs.”
In accordance with the application’s requirements, the Sheriff’s Department has also established a Coronavirus Local Advisory Committee, which Jones is the chair of, to represent stakeholders and recommend prioritizations. Public commenters called the committee a group propped up by the Sheriff’s Department, noting that another representative, inmate services manager Rosa Lazenby, is also a department official.
V. Manuel Perez, the only dissenting supervisor in the 4-1 vote, noted the committee’s membership is the area he had an issue with.
“Where is probation,” he asked. “Where is Health and Human Services? Where is Behavioral Health? They should have been listed as well initially as members. That’s a concern.”
Community organizations set to receive funds if the grant is awarded include Moreno Valley’s Victory Outreach, Palm Desert’s Destiny Ministries and United Way of Inland Valley.
Sheriff’s Department officials committed to providing frequent reports on the developments of disbursements over a 10-month period. If awarded, the Sheriff’s Department will return to the Board of Supervisors for authorization to receive the grant at a later date.