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A trio of nonprofit agencies that have had a hammerlock on nearly $2 million in public programs to help reduce San Francisco’s jail population are being forced into a competitive bidding process for the work for the first time. The agencies — the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, the Own Recognizance Project and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice — confirmed they are competing for contracts. And officials at the nonprofits said they’re nervous about the process, which could mean losing their stake in the work. “It’s kind of a scary process,” said Alissa Riker, director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice’s jail services division. The sheriff’s department opened the programs up for bid in May. The bid process closed in June, and Sheriff Michael Hennessey said contract decisions would be made within six months. Hennessey said the San Francisco city attorney’s office told him this year that he had to put those services out for bid, though he acknowledged his department contracts for many social services without going through that process. He speculated there might have been new, or newly discovered, contracting rules at the root of the advice. Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said he was unable to reach a lawyer in the office for comment Monday. He noted that awarding contracts through a bid process is “generally considered a good government thing,” and said the alternative, known as a sole-source contract, is the exception rather than the rule. Hennessey, who served on the Pretrial Diversion Project’s board of directors for about 20 years, said he stepped down from that post recently because of potential conflicts over the bid process. The $1.9 million package of work may be given to more than one agency. The work includes several tasks that fall under two umbrellas, according to a request for proposal: determining whether arrestees are eligible for own recognizance release and administering court-ordered alternatives to incarceration before trial and after sentencing. Along with the three organizations, Goodwill Industries and a group called Capital Partnerships bid on various combinations of the tasks, said Eileen Hirst, the sheriff’s chief of staff. One of the incumbent groups is competing with another to grab a larger share of work. The Pretrial Diversion Project has bid to keep doing the work it’s done in the past — and to take over work currently performed by the Own Recognizance Project, said Pretrial Diversion’s executive director, Will Leong. “We’re clearly proposing a change in the status quo,” Leong said. He said allowing Pretrial Diversion to take on the additional tasks would result in economies of scale and lower failure-to-appear rates, as well as fewer continuances in court. The Pretrial Diversion Project, which works with the court to place defendants into alternative programs, such as drug treatment or community service, might not get any piece of the contract, acknowledged Leong, but he said he thinks that unlikely. “Good luck to somebody who’s trying to catch up with two decades of what we’ve done,” Leong said. “We’ve refined it. You don’t just open up shop like this.” But the uncertainty is taking its toll on the project’s 30 employees. The project recently lost about $430,000 in grant funds outside of its regular budget due to the state budget crisis, Leong noted. So even if his organization gets all the work it’s looking for with this bid, he said, he’ll have to cut some administrative employees and take on more work with the same number of case managers. “The staff knows,” Leong said. “Everybody’s kind of on pins and needles.” A more reasonable question is what piece of its business the project might lose, Leong said. “It’d be bad enough if it were just one activity.” The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice’s jail services division employs nine, including Riker. She doesn’t know if anyone else is competing for her agency’s traditional stake, but if another group were to get it, “I would hope that whoever did win the project would want to hire the staff,” she said. “It’s the first time that any of us in pretrial [services] have really had to go through a bidding process,” said James Hargarten, board president of the Own Recognizance Project and a partner with Thelen Reid & Priest. Capital Partnerships and a spokesperson for Goodwill Industries could not be reached for comment. Though the sheriff’s contract with the Pretrial Diversion Project accounted for about $1.4 million of its roughly $2 million budget in San Francisco last fiscal year, Leong said, the current bidding process touches on “virtually all” of the services his organization provides. Among them is supervised pretrial release for felony and misdemeanor defendants, and the agency’s namesake pretrial diversion program. That program allows certain misdemeanor defendants to have charges against them dismissed if they complete a court-assigned menu of tasks, such as community service or substance abuse treatment. The Own Recognizance Project bid only on the services it has performed for decades, Hargarten said. “We feel very comfortable that we’ve got the staff, the history and the familiarity to provide those services,” he said. He declined to comment on the competition, noting that he hadn’t read the other bids. The Own Recognizance Project’s contract with the sheriff’s department funded “the vast majority” of the project’s roughly $1 million annual budget, Hargarten said. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has bid to keep running all three of its jail services, Riker said. The budget for the three services totaled about $477,000 last year, she said. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his office has had “excellent experiences” with the three current providers. But he added that it doesn’t make sense to have two or three different agencies taking in and researching information on an arrestee. “I would imagine that whoever’s looking at these proposals would also be looking at how to more effectively facilitate the flow of information.”

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