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Sheriff proposes moving inmates out of County Jail

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San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy is set to propose a plan to move inmates out of the Hall of Justice and put them elsewhere. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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More than a year after San Francisco rejected plans to build a new jail, the Sheriff’s Department is set to release a proposal for moving 300 to 350 inmates out of the soon-to-close maximum security County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice.

While the details of the strategy remain unclear, the Sheriff’s Department is crafting a contingency plan following the jail’s closure, which officials will present to the Board of Supervisors on June 13, according to Sheriff’s Department Chief of Staff Eileen Hirst.

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy is crafting the plan with a working group that includes the Department of Public Health and others.

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After the jail’s closure, the inmates would need to be housed somewhere else and “the solution may involve the construction of a scaled replacement facility,” according to The City’s draft capital plan being discussed as part of Mayor Ed Lee’s upcoming proposed budget.

Lee’s administration did not respond to a question regarding what The City’s budget commitment will be.

The option of building a new $80 million jail to replace the seventh floor high-security facility in the seismically unsound Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. was killed in December 2015 when The City rejected a grant after facing opposition. The working group was set up late last year to look into potential replacement strategies.

But Hirst said the working group plan is being finalized, so she could not relay details about what might be done with inmates once the old jail is closed.

The group’s task was to look into four separate areas: lowering jail population through reduced recidivism, investing in increased behavioral health plans for mentally ill inmates, reviewing the state of current facilities and posit alternative options, and maintaining San Francisco’s eligibility for state funds for the construction or renovation of these facilities.

Any plan must be backed up with money from The City to pay for alternatives to incarceration, said former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

“They don’t need another jail, but they do need a smart alternative,” said Mirkarimi, who lost his re-election bid against Hennessy in 2015.

Still, Mirkarimi said the deadline set by The City has forced the hand of the sheriff artificially.

Others are still set on a new jail even if The City has since already shot down that idea.

San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association head Eugene Cerbone said he does not know what the sheriff’s plan will look like, but opposes anything but a new jail.

“The answer is you need to build a new jail. And if these people think we can have criminals commit crimes here and we can send them away they are delusional,” he said. “We can’t just shut down our jail system, we have to replace it.”

Moving people to other counties, for instance, would only cost taxpayers more money and cause logistical headaches, Cerbone said.

“You can’t just send inmates away,” he said.

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