Jump in jail population drags on tight budget

Criminals are being sent to jail at an increased pace, but that jump in the number of people behind bars will also be pricey.

An unexpected increase in San Francisco’s jail population has prompted Sheriff Michael Hennessey to sound an early warning he will need millions of dollars more than was budgeted.

The warning is the latest bad news for The City’s budget, which recently took an $8 million hit from state budget cuts. San Francisco’s budget is expected to undergo mid-year cuts as more budget hits are expected and as officials attempt to close next year’s projected budget shortfall of more than $300 million.

Hennessey said he has issued an “early warning” to Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors that he is going to burn up his budget and need more money this year because of the high number of arrests “that are going on that weren’t going on last year.”

“The daily prisoner population in the county jails has increased almost 7 percent in less than a month and over 12 percent since the beginning of the fiscal year [July 1],” Hennessey said in a

Sept. 21 letter to the Board of Supervisors. “The jails are now regularly housing 300 more prisoners daily than when the fiscal year began.”

In July, the jail had a daily average population of 1,880 inmates. That increased to 1,986 for the month of August and then increased to 2,141 in September, as of Sept. 21.

The sudden uptick in inmate population coincides with the arrival of new police chief, George Gascón, and his recent crime fighting efforts such as a crackdown on drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

Police Sgt. Wilfred Williams said there were 400 felony arrests in the past month and a half. Of those arrested, about 40 percent were on probation or parole, which allows police to put a “hold” on the offender that keeps them in custody.

“The increase in the daily jail population is attributable to more arrests and fewer releases,” Hennessey said. The increase has forced him to open up additional housing units in the jail. At the current rate, he would need at least $2.25 million more than was budgeted this fiscal year. He plans on asking Newsom and the supervisors for the additional funding.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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