The San Francisco Public Defender has come out against a proposal to transfer some inmates from San Francisco County jails to jails in Alameda County, he wrote in a letter to Mayor London Breed on Friday.
The Hall of Justice, where County Jail 4 is located, is seismically unsafe and in danger of collapse during an earthquake, reports have found. The building has been slated for eventual demolition.
“My staff and I visit clients at County Jail 4 on a daily basis and can see for ourselves how inadequate and potentially dangerous that facility is,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote. “But the option of transferring our clients to Alameda County is much worse.”
Office space has been leased elsewhere in The City to relocate some city workers, such as the District Attorney’s office, out of the Hall of Justice. But a solution has yet to be found for where to move the inmates in Jail 4.
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors turned down $80 million to help fund the construction of a new jail and instead created a working group to focus on ways to reduce the inmate population to avoid building a new facility.
But in the meantime, the remaining county jails don’t have enough capacity to absorb the current inmate population if Jail 4 were to be closed today.
The city is exploring options including renovating one unused facility or shipping inmates to Alameda County, as well as finding ways to reduce the jail population. But Adachi told the San Francisco Examiner that moving inmates across the Bay would put an additional burden on the 103 public defenders who already have a large caseload, representing 20,000 clients a year.
“It’s a terrible idea. I was around in the early 90s when this was tried. It was disastrous,” he said.
Requiring public defenders to drive to Santa Rita would result in a lack of access to their clients, Adachi said.
“When you are adding just an hour to get to the client, and whatever time it takes to wait, it creates an untenable situation where we essentially lack access to see our clients. Some folks are facing life in prison, so it’s absolutely critical they be close by.”
Moving inmates to Alameda County would also run afoul of San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy, which he said Alameda County did not share.
“Alameda County has a very different relationship with ICE than we do,” he said. “It would violate San Francisco policy to send detainees or arrestees to Santa Rita.”
Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has also expressed her opposition to the proposal at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting last week and said San Francisco jails offer services that Alameda County does not.
Breed was not immediately available for comment.