Ideas and collaboration lead to expansion and new catalog
Inmates at the Marin County Jail have had access to a modest selection of books for many years. What was missing was a catalog or database to show the incarcerated patrons what else was available if it wasn’t on the shelves.
A collaboration between employees of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and the Marin County Free Library (MCFL) recently solved the situation, and it’s a page-turner of a story to tell.
America Velasco, a program coordinator for the Sheriff’s Custody Division team who was hired in November 2018, was eager to improve the selection of materials and create a catalog for the inmates. There were about 2,000 books and a selection of educational DVDs within the jail. With a few ideas in mind, she first talked with Custody Division Reentry Sgt. Michael Dobbins. With his encouragement, Velasco walked up to the information desk at the Civic Center library branch one day in January 2019.
“There are inmates in our custody who escape their reality by reading books, and I wanted to provide them with books from various genres to choose from,” Velasco said. “It’s important for me to know what type of books we have and how many available copies we have to better assist the inmates, so a catalog was needed.”
Elmer Jan, one of the branch’s librarians, remembers the first exchange with Velasco. They both realized it was going to be a tedious and extensive project to catalog each item.
“I expressed an interest in working with America to explore what projects we could address together and so began researching how other public libraries provide service to county jails,” he said.
“I was surprised by their excitement, but I was excited to have Elmer and the rest of his peers on board,” Velasco said.
Jan’s research connected him to the San Francisco Public Library Jail and Reentry Services division staffed by library program manager Rachel Kinnon and librarian Jeanie Austin, who generously shared their resources and experiences.
In May, Jan started visiting the jail on Monday mornings to spend two hours organizing the library materials into genres. He is creating a survey to find out what type of books the inmates would like to read, and Velasco is proactively “weeding” books in poor shape from the jail archive and has initiated a subscription to the Libib cataloging website. MCFL has begun donating new books in direct response to specific inmate requests.
What’s popular? Books on World War II, astronomy, other nonfiction, historical fiction and works by author James Patterson.
“With the library taking patron requests and our response to those requests with Sara Jones’ support, I feel extremely gratified that we have begun providing library service to an underserved population,” said Jan, who is in his 19th year working for MCFL.
At the jail, Velasco normally oversees educational programs, religious services, community resources presentations, training programs and the volunteer program. She evaluates program effectiveness and creates and maintains the program scheduling in all the housing units. With that much interaction with inmates, she already knows the library upgrades are being received well.
“Once we explain to the inmates that we are creating a library catalog and expanding the selection, they are excited about having access to more books than the ones in their housing unit,” she said.
MCFL Director Sara Jones said the departmental collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office represents the County’s commitment to equity measures. “It demonstrates how we can tailor services to create access to information and provide reading materials to those who have limited options,” she said. “It’s rewarding whenever we use the skills of library staff to meet our mission for inclusion for all people in Marin.”
To learn more about supporting the jail library, call (415) 473-3203. The nonprofit Friends of the Marin County Free Library supports many other MCFL programs.
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Sen. Steven Bradford Brings Strength and Reason to Police Reform Fight
SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations.
California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), admits that he will meet challenges along the way as he fights for police reform in California.
Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he defended a bill he introduced in the Legislature that, if passed, would decertify cops for inappropriate behavior. During that appearance, Bradford made a persuasive case for police reform that was, at turns, forceful and thoughtful, bringing a cool head but passionate voice to a topic that has created a bitter divide in the California electorate, pitting advocates of police reform violently against people who support law enforcement.
“This is a tough issue but it’s a righteous issue,” Bradford told his colleagues.
“And we want to be intentional about what we are doing here in California when it comes to police reform,” he continued during his passionate closing argument for police reform on April 27. “That’s what this bill does. It’s intentional in what we are trying to achieve. This is a fair measure and far better than any that exist today.”
Co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate Bill (SB) 2 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote that same day. Also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, the legislation aims to increase accountability for law enforcement officers that commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights.
SB 2 will create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of serious crimes or termination from employment due to misconduct.
Bradford praised the judiciary committee’s majority vote, describing it as progress that would put California on the “right side of history.”
“The passage of SB 2 (April 27) is another step toward the goal of achieving much-needed accountability in policing, and I thank Senator Bradford for his steadfast commitment to achieving critical and necessary reforms,” said Atkins. “As with anything this big, there is a lot of work ahead, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to get this bill in the position to cross the finish line.”
The California Peace Officer Association (CPOA) believes that Bradford’s bill would turn the California Committee on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) into an investigative agency. A sticking point for the group is that the people who would be given the authority to probe police misconduct would primarily be non-peace officers.
“We, of course, know that not all reform is a good reform, and CPOA among others is open to ‘reimagining public safety in California,” Shaun Rundle, CPOA’s deputy director said in a written statement about several police reform and public safety bills scheduled for hearings. “What we didn’t imagine, however, was the continued attacks against a noble profession who have proven to improve and drive down crime in this state year after year.”
With the passage of SB 2 out of committee, the legislation will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If it advances out of that committee, SB 2 could head to a Senate floor vote.
During the Judiciary Committee hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, a few senators expressed their support but asked Bradford to modify language pertaining to the Bane Act.
SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. Authored by California State Assemblymember Tom Bane, the legislation was created to allow victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.
Supporters of police reform in California say the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions over the years. They argue that it was once an effective law intended to protect the civil rights of people in the state but has since been weakened as an effective check against police excessive use of force.
The California State Sheriffs’ Association views SB 2 as problematic, in terms of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining employees.
“We are concerned that the language removing employee immunity from state civil liability will result in individual peace officers hesitating or failing to act out of fear that actions they believe to be lawful may result in litigation and damages. In so doing, SB 2 will very likely jeopardize public safety and diminish our ability to recruit, hire, and retain qualified individuals,” the California State Sheriffs’ Association said in a written statement.
But Bradford says his bill essentially addresses rogue policing and hinders the ability of fired officers to find employment at other agencies even when they have a record of misconduct that got them terminated.
Among states that do not have a process to decertify cops for criminal behavior are Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California.
“We lead in technology, we lead in the environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” Bradford said, referring to California’s reputation as a political trailblazer on several fronts.
People of color live in the communities where the majority of police misconduct incidents take place, Bradford said, adding that SB 2 will save Black and Brown lives.
“How many more people, regardless of color need to lose their lives because of the callous acts of law enforcement?” Bradford asked his colleagues. “There are two systems of justice in this country. But you’ll never know, and really understand. Its far different than anything any of you guys have encountered or will encounter.”
Unanswered Questions Over Costs of Proposed Howard Terminal Ballpark
There is growing public scrutiny of the deal the Oakland A’s are offering to the city in a proposal, released the end of April, to “privately fund” the building of a $1 billion ballpark and a massive $12 billon real estate development, almost a city within a city, on the waterfront at Howard Terminal and Jack London Square in downtown Oakland.
The Oakland A’s “term sheet,” released on April 23 and available at www.mlb.com/athletics/oakland-ballpark/community-report, proposes a construction project that, in addition to a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark, would feature 3,000 units of mostly market rate housing, a hotel, an indoor performance center and 1.5 million square feet of offices and 270,000 square feet of retail space, as well as a gondola to transport fans over the I-880 freeway.
Many of the details of the proposal are vague, and there are many unanswered questions about how much this project will cost Oakland taxpayers and what benefits the city would ultimately see.
Among those who raised questions was Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel of Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, an opponent of moving the A’s to Howard Terminal.
“I think it’s hard to say what’s going on. They haven’t made it plain what they’re asking for and what they’re proposing,” Jacob said in an interview with the Oakland Post.
The A’s term sheet proposes a cost of $955 million for infrastructure and $450 million that will be utilized for community benefits, but that funding would be paid by taxpayers, presumably with a bond, he said.
“It is unclear whether (the funding) is underwritten by the bond, whether it is backed by general fund money and pretty unclear what the scope for the infrastructure really is,” said Jacob.
Do infrastructure costs include toxic waste cleanup at the site, which would be considerable, the cost of the gondola, multiple safe railway crossings for pedestrians and cars and any required construction if the Port of Oakland shipping is impacted? He asked.
In addition, not only would taxpayers pay the millions of dollars in community benefits they would supposedly receive for various types of services and other projects, the money would be spread over a 45-year period.
To help fund the project, the A’s propose the city create a tax district for property owners along 1.5 miles near downtown Oakland to help pay for city services and infrastructure to serve the development.
The A’s also have said in their literature that the project would generate 6,000 jobs but are short of details about what that promise means. According to a letter to a state agency in August 2019, many of the estimated 6,667 would be jobs at offices in the development, in effect counting as new jobs any existing Oakland businesses that lease space in one of the new office buildings.
For their part, the A’s are pushing the City Council to approve their deal before the council recesses for its July break.
“We are really excited to get that (the term sheet) out there, and we are even more excited to get this to the City Council to vote this summer,” Dave Kaval, A’s president, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
While Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has thrown the weight of her office behind the deal, she is expressing some reservations after the term sheet was released and community opposition to the Howard Terminal project has continued to grow.
In a comment to the Chronicle, Schaaf spokesperson Justin Berton said:
“Our goals for the project are unchanged: We want to keep the A’s in Oakland – forever. We need a deal that’s good not just for the A’s, but for the City, one that provides specific, tangible, and equitable benefits to our residents and doesn’t leave Oakland’s taxpayers on the hook.”
“The A’s contend that the growth in tax revenues attributed to their project will be sufficient to fully fund those investments and that they will benefit the entire community, (and) the city is critically examining these claims,” said Berton in the East Bay Times.
The impact of the decision on the A’s proposal could be huge for Oakland, noted Berton. “The commitments requested by the A’s would pre-determine the use of a substantial portion of tax revenue from this part of the city for years to come,” he told the East Bay Times.
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