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Opposition poised to doom San Francisco’s new jail

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A protester displays a sign opposing the building of a new jail facility in San Francisco, during a budget and finance comittee meeting at San Francisco’s city hall Wednesday, December 2, 2015. (Connor Hunt/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s jail proposal could be doomed after six members of the Board of Supervisors said Monday they would vote against the project on Tuesday.

Four members of the Board of Supervisors – John Avalos, Eric Mar, Jane Kim, David Campos – have long taken an anti-jail position. They were joined during a rally Monday by board president London Breed who ended weeks of speculation by saying she would oppose the jail.

Breed declared her position with the four progressive supervisors during a rally outside of City Hall. “My brother spent years in 850 Bryant,” she said. “Unfortunately he had a drug problem and he needed treatment, not to be locked up.”

Breed continued, “We are not going to support a stand alone prison to continue to lock up African Americans and Latinos in this city. We are not going to continue to lock up people who have mental illness and clearly need to be treated. We are not going to continue to lock up people who have substance abuse problems that need the kind of treatment that only a facility that specializes in those kinds of problems offer. We need to be better.”

Supervisor Malia Cohen, who did not attend Monday’s rally, told the San Francisco Examiner via text message after the event, “I’m voting against the jail.” That brings the vote tally to six. It takes at least six of the 11 board members to reject the jail proposal, which is before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Mayor Ed Lee and Sheriff-elect Vicki Hennessy support the new jail. Sheriff Department officials argue the capacity of the proposed 384-bed new jail is necessary.

Campos said, “There are many things that San Francisco needs. San Francisco needs housing. San Francisco needs to address the homeless issue. San Francisco needs to figure out how to make it possible for families to be able to afford to live in in this city. But the last thing San Francisco needs in my view is a new jail.”

Other supervisors reached for comment Monday said they had yet to make up their minds. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who was sworn into his seat last week, said via text “still learning.” Supervisor Norman Yee said, “Just received some info I had been asking for. I want to review, so I’m undecided at this point.”

The $380 million jail, which includes debt service and a recently awarded $80 million state grant, would replace the Hall of Justice county jails 3 and 4 on property next door. The City plans to purchase the property for about $14.5 million.

If jails 3 and 4 were to shut down, there would be a maximum of 1,230 total beds in the system. As of Nov. 20, the jail population, which has declined over the years, was 1,270, of which 49 percent comprised of black people.

Thew new jail proposal is opposed by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a statewide group opposing jail projects being funded through other state grants. District Attorney George Gascon has also opposed the jail. In a recent letter to the board, Gascon wrote, “With as many as 40 percent of our in–custody population suffering from some degree of mental illness, it is clear that San Francisco has a mental health treatment problem, not a jail capacity problem.”

Those on both sides of the jail debate agree The City’s existing Hall of Justice facilities are unsafe and should shut down. Campos said the right course of action would be to reject the jail proposal and then “engage in a strategic plan for figuring out how to address the various needs including perhaps possibly doing work on [County Jail 6] and the possibility of building a mental health facility.” County Jail 6, an existing in facility in San Bruno, could be rehabbed to create bed capacity.

“It seems like the folks who have been working on this have had blinders,” Campos said. “They took the easy way out. They saw that this $80 million was available .”

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