Guest Commentary: ‘Not Without A Fight’: An Open Letter to Sacramento County Residents

By Decarcerate Sacramento

Our Sacramento jails do not disappear social problems, they disappear mothers, fathers, neighbors, and loved ones. The layered issues of endemic poverty, COVID-19, housing and homelessness crises, and historic neglect in communities are swept away from view when those most impacted by these social conditions are put in cages.”

— Sacramento resident

Imagine a county government service that cages people 40,000 times per year and costs over $200 million to operate. Each of the hundreds of jail operators, County Board of Supervisors and administrators, essential to the jail system’s functioning, obtain compensation of roughly $250 thousand annually—on the lower end.

Additionally, imagine this jail system produces no measurable and sustainable positive effect for the persons caged and the families and communities in which they are released. There is no rehabilitation effect. There is also no sustainable crime deterrent effect.

Now imagine that this local taxpayer-funded human caging system, undoubtedly the most expensive Sacramento County “service” in history, remains accountable to NO ONE.

By the numbers, the outcomes of the jail are staggering:

  • 42 in-custody deaths over the last 10 years;
  • 23 attempted suicides in 2020 alone;
  • 37 percent of persons caged are Black, although the County’s general population is only 11 percent Black;
  • 70 percent are pre-trial or have not been found guilty of the crime they are caged for;
  • 1 jail stay means a person is 7 times more likely to be homeless;
  • Children of caged persons are 6 times more likely to be caged themselves;
  • 1 active Federal consent decree mandating a jail population reduction and significantly improving jail conditions.

Despite the weight of this data, the County remains deeply confused about its path forward.  The County is at a clear fork in the road:

  • expand the jail, continue the cycle of punishment, and invest in the “harm economy” that profits from more caging and punishment; or
  • keep the promise the County legally agreed to in 2019 that a “reduction in the jail population is a cost-effective means to achieve constitutional and statutory standards.” Conduct a rigorous inventory of County programs and policies impacting the caged population. What programs and policies work and what doesn’t–inside the jails and in community settings? Conduct a holistic gap analysis of what is needed and its costs.

There are three reasons why the Board of Supervisors should vote “No” to the $10 million mental health jail expansion plan on March 10, 2021.

  • Keep your legal obligations: The Mays Consent decree states that this jail expansion is NOT the only option to meet the consent decree:
    • The County is considering the $200 million jail expansion as the only solution to “dangerous and unconstitutional” jail conditions.
    • Other solutions are highlighted in the consent decree—depopulating and diversion being two of the most widely supported.
    • Current County data show that almost 60 percent of the people in jail need mental health support. The consent decree calls for jail conditions to change for those with mental health needs. Yet the proposed jail annex only serves 150 people. That is less than five percent of the people the county reports who are in need of support.
    • A new building meets less than 15 percent of the over 400 requirements in the consent decree.
  • Preserve our fragile post-COVID-19 economic recovery: What is the 30 year lifecycle cost of the County’s proposed $200 million jail expansion?
    • Where is the County’s cost-benefit analysis? Could this money be better spent on re-entry housing services, small business and job support, and youth services in low-opportunity neighborhoods?
    • How might a robust and equitable economic recovery, instead of investing in jails and punishment, prevent current and future generations from being inside a cage?
  • Be stewards of good governance and accountability: What are the moral, social, and financial costs of the County’s investments in cages?
    • Who wins? Who loses? What neighborhoods thrive or slowly die?
    • Good governance should be a right of our people. Instead, hundreds of thousands of hours of free civic labor, damning media coverage, and countless lawsuits seem to be the only fuel to move this County. Our people are still waiting for this County to commit acts of good governance–share data and analysis, consider alternatives to incarceration, and communicate with impacted neighborhoods. This builds community trust that paves the way for public safety. We demand these building blocks because we know it will not be handed to us.

Don’t be duped. This jail annex is attempting to treat the ravages of a metastatic social cancer with a band aid.

Donald Trump is gone. The historic George Floyd protests have mobilized and engaged residents to expect better. Yet, the County seeks to breathe life into a $200 million plan for expanding mental health cages. This decision suggests “everything is fine” and that mass incarceration works.

On March 10th, we speak for those who cannot speak–those 3,200 caged neighbors –“Not Without a Fight.”

When our County chooses profit over people and cages over care, we say, “Not Without a Fight.”

The Future is Now: Build mental health facilities that serve the whole person and their families. Make larger investments in community run programs that are trusted by those who live in our most underserved areas. Invest in diversion programs that restore people and not put them in Probation’s surveillance state. Invest in substance abuse programs that heal the underlying conditions, sex worker and trauma programs that restore, youth job development, and mental health services with social service professionals who are trained in restorative justice. Reimagine economic innovations that transform our entire Sacramento community to one of shared abundance.

You cannot build a future with a jail system that:

  • Dehumanizes and traumatizes caged persons and their families
  • Financially devastates families
  • Doesn’t hold people accountable, it punishes
  • Doesn’t treat the whole person, only the part that is most offensive to carceral system actors
  • Financially overburdens the County


It doesn’t remotely meet the consent decree.

Join Decarcerate Sacramento on March 10th (Time TBD) here for the Board of Supervisors Meeting.

Write a letter in advance. Make public comment on that day.

Find your Supervisor here:

If the Board passes this motion to build the jail annex, mass incarceration has won again.


Decarcerate Sacramento is a coalition working to end jail expansions, decrease jail populations, and shift county funds away from policing and incarceration towards community-based systems of care that actually keep the public safe.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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