(Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner, 2013)

Mayor sets deadline to empty seismically unsafe jail, but city still lacks a plan to make it happen

On the 30th anniversary of the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, Mayor London Breed on Thursday set a timeline for the complete shutdown of the seismically unsafe jail at the Hall of Justice.

Breed announced that she wants all inmates moved out of the decrepit seventh-floor County Jail No. 4 by July 2021 — the same deadline for court staff and law enforcement personnel to clear out of the aging building.

Agencies including the Medical Examiner’s Office have already moved out or started to leave the dangerous facility in favor of new buildings or under temporary leases, as in the case of the District Attorney’s Office.

But city officials still have yet to figure out where all the inmates will go when the jail closes.

“It’s important that we move incarcerated individuals out of the existing Hall of Justice as soon as we can and we are exploring all options to transfer people to better and more humane conditions,” Breed said in a statement.

For years, The City has focused on reducing the jail population instead of building a replacement jail. In 2015, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted against building a new jail in favor of researching alternatives amid uproar over the proposal.

But since then, retiring Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has said that the inmate count is not projected to drop low enough for The City to close the jail without needing to move the inmates to another facility.

That bind has prompted her to propose renovating a minimum-security facility in San Bruno to house the overflow population. Her likely successor and sole candidate for sheriff, Chief Deputy Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, is on the same page.

Breed has not ruled that out as an option. The mayor is also considering shipping inmates to facilities run by neighboring Alameda County, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

Both Hennessy and Miyamoto oppose that alternative.

In a recent editorial board meeting with the Examiner, Miyamoto explained that one his first priorities as sheriff would be to ask the Board of Supervisors for funding to renovate the San Bruno facility.

“I completely acknowledge and understand that there is a segment of the community which is completely against building any jails whatsoever,” Miyamoto said. “But I do believe I am burdened with the reality that sometimes is counter to the belief that we don’t need jails.”

Miyamoto said The City needs to incarcerate people who pose a danger to the community.

“My responsibility as sheriff is to make sure we have a safe place for them to be,” he said. County Jail No. 4, Miyamoto said, “is not a safe place for anyone.”

In a press release Thursday, the Mayor’s Office said, “San Francisco is currently exploring the fiscal and physical feasibility of several new options, including out-of-county facilities, but no location has been determined yet.”

Breed’s announcement comes a day before a Board of Supervisors committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the plans to close the Hall of Justice jail. Supervisor Matt Haney called for the hearing.

“The board is hoping to hear from the mayor, city administrator and sheriff tomorrow exactly how they plan to close the facility, what will happen to people living and working there, what the timeline is for that and what we can do to work collaboratively to make it happen,” Haney said.

Haney said it was important that the mayor acknowledged the building needs to be closed on the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

“The City’s own studies have shown that this building is critically at risk if there is a major earthquake,” Haney said.

San Francisco has known since the 1990s that lives would be in danger if the building collapsed during an earthquake.

The mayor’s announcement Thursday also included details about what The City plans to build on the site and its adjacent parcels once the Hall of Justice is demolished.

Breed’s plan calls for demolishing the Hall of Justice in 2025 and beginning construction on a new “Justice Campus” in 2028.

The campus would include space for the courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys and sheriff’s and adult probation departments, according to the announcement.

In addition, the new Justice Campus is expected to “focus on victim’s services and the rehabilitation and treatment of offenders” with a mix of mental health and substance use treatment beds as well as transitional housing and “jail beds, if necessary,” the announcement said.

“We need to reform our criminal justice system to reduce incarceration, but we also need places to hold people accountable for their actions and to offer rehabilitative services,” Breed said in a statement.

The exact details of the new campus, including the number of beds that will be offered, are still being worked out.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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