Activists tell county supes to stop jailing juveniles at Camp Sweeney

Clarence Ford was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center as a youth in 2006. It didn’t change his behavior. By the age of 20, he was jailed in an out-of-state prison. After serving his time, Ford returned to the Bay Area; joined the Safe Return Project, a criminal justice advocacy group in Richmond; enrolled in a community college and transferred to U.C. Berkeley. He later earned a master’s degree in public policy.

Alameda County beatFord told Alameda County supervisors about his success stories last Thursday as part of a push by criminal justice reformers who want the county to shelve a proposed $75 million proposed remodel of Camp Sweeney, a juvenile detention facility in San Leandro. The new facility would increase the number of beds at Camp Sweeney from 60 up to 120.

“We don’t need to invest in jails,” Ford told to the Board of Supervisors Public Protection Committee on Thursday morning. “We need to allocate resource for community-based organizations that are working with our population and understand our needs, and are willing to take us to places we need to be.”

Camp Sweeney has been in various states of disrepair in recent years. Several Alameda County Grand Jury reports have focused on the condition of the 1950s era facility. About a decade ago, the county was awarded a state grant to rebuild Camp Sweeney, but progress has been slow. One problem is seismic issues at property nestled on Fairmont Drive near the 580 freeway.

Activists at Thursday’s meeting would do just as well without the juvenile detention facility, altogether. Jose Bernal of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, noted a recent report that estimates Alameda County spends almost $500,000 a year to house incarcerated juveniles.

The cost and questions about the efficacy of jailing young people has become a growing nationwide criminal justice issue in recent years.

“This is a matter of racial and economic injustice,” Bernal told county supervisors. Black youths make up the majority of those locked up at Camp Sweeney, despite making up a vastly smaller percentage of the overall population, he added.

“The mere fact that we have to come here and talk about this in 2020 in unconscionable to me and really egregious,” Bernal said.