County Contract With Church For Jail Service Tests Separation Principle

County government this week entered into a contract that brought to public attention arrangements that at least some people believe blur the line of separation between church and state.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $628,280 contract with the High Desert Abundant Living Family Church to pay for what a county staff report called “a pilot project to reduce jail reoccurrence in the High Desert Region, for the contract period of October 2, 2018 through October 2, 2019.”
That staff report, attributed to Department of Public Health Director Trudy Raymundo, Department of Behavioral Health Director Veronica Kelley and Sheriff John McMahon, was dated October 2, 2018 but posted last week. It stated, “The Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Health and the Sheriff’s Department, are seeking to reduce jail reoccurrence in the High Desert region through a pilot project known as New Hope. During the Fiscal Year 2018-19 county budget process, the board of supervisors allocated $1.0 million into a reserve that would be utilized to fund pilot programs that might reduce jail reoccurrence and recidivism rates throughout the county. The High Desert Abundant Living Family Church (ALFC), located in the city of Hesperia, has been providing recidivism reduction services through Proposition 47 and other recidivism reduction funds allocated through the Board of State and Community Corrections since 2015. In addition, they have been working in conjunction with the sheriff’s department to provide needed transportation services for individuals released from incarceration into the High Desert region.”
The report continues, “The New Hope project being proposed will consist of expanded transportation services for individuals released from the High Desert detention center. In addition, ALFC will hire peer navigators and other support staff to provide supportive case management services to a select group of these recently released individuals, to connect them with physical and mental health services, and assistance in accessing housing, job training, job placement, substance abuse treatment services, transportation and other vital resources needed for successful reentry.”
According to the report, “Currently, there are similar services being provided to reduce recidivism rates, but recipients of current program services must have a mental health and/or substance abuse disorder to qualify and participate, excluding many individuals.”
The report states that “On August 19, 2014, the board of supervisors approved the county’s participation in California Forward’s Partnership (CA Forward). On April 17, 2018, the board of supervisors received a presentation from CA Forward regarding jail utilization rates and recommendations regarding strategies that may reduce or mitigate jail reoccurrence in the county. CA Forward has provided critical data analysis expertise for the sheriff’s department in regards to jail utilization, and will continue to provide program planning and data analysis expertise through the initial three months of the New Hope project. As a pilot, this project will include a mandatory planning period to ensure that a framework is established that will define program objectives and data elements to be collected during the project period, including a potential focus on the homeless population. These outcomes will be evaluated to determine potential expansion and replication in the future.”
At present, according to the report, the High Desert Abundant Living Family Church is a sole source vendor with regard to the New Hope project. “The contract is being recommended as part of a one-year pilot project supported and funded by a collaborative effort between the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health and the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health,” the report states. The Sheriff’s Department presented the need for a data driven jail reoccurrence reduction program to the board on April 17, 2018. Abundant Living Family Church has presented a proposal to provide the services based on prior experience working with the target population, and as a provider of existing, similar services. Abundant Living Family Church is providing other recidivism-related services to this target population under current county contracts, making them the ideal candidate to support the New Hope pilot project efforts. The county’s department of purchasing supports the procurement of these services from Abundant Living Family Church based on the existing contractual relationship and specialized expertise and experience working with the target population. If the program proves successful and additional funding is allocated, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health will evaluate whether a procurement process is necessary to expand the pool of potential providers.”
In response to those who suggested that the county contracting with the Abundant Living Family Church constitutes a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state and that it is improper for the county to be contracting with a church for the provision of those sorts of services, the county’s information officer, David Wert, said, “The county often contracts with community organizations – some secular, some faith-based – that provide, or can provide, community services that align with the county’s mission. It’s common sense and saves a lot of time and money to partner with people who are already doing or have the expertise to do good things in the community.”
Furthermore, Wert said, “The law forbids the county from discriminating on the basis of religion, and that extends to entities that bid for county contracts. We wouldn’t be allowed to refuse to contract with a religious institution simply because they are a religious institution if they can otherwise carry out the assigned work. Also, it is standard language in all county contracts that contractors must comply with all applicable laws. It would be clearly illegal to use county funds to promote religion, and the county would act immediately if a contractor tried to do that.”
Wert said, “Public agencies from the federal government to cities contract with religious institutions if a religious institution emerges as the entity best-equipped and most-able to carry out a particular task. Many religious organizations are doing great things in their communities, and if often makes more sense to amplify what they are doing using their established infrastructure – including community trust and relationships – than start a new government program from scratch and duplicate efforts.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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