San Francisco's bill for building a more modern — and safer — place for inmates could be cut by $80 million if The City succeeds in securing money from the state for a new jail.
The City houses inmates in multiple county jails in San Bruno and San Francisco.
There is room for 905 people at county jails No. 3 and 4 on the sixth and seventh floors of the Hall of Justice — more than half of the jail system's 2012 daily average population of about 1,535. But the jails are considered antiquated and are housed in a building that's in danger of collapsing in an earthquake, city officials say.
A new jail with up to 688 beds is expected to cost about $290 million, one of the most expensive general fund projects in San Francisco history. The City will ask the state to cover up to $80 million of that bill in a grant application approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
With the approval, The City can apply for the funding just before the Wednesday deadline.
Prominent city politicians, including District Attorney George Gascón and Supervisor David Campos, have questioned the wisdom of spending so heavily on building a new jail, a “prison-building” project they believe conflicts with San Francisco values.
Supporters say The City isn't building new places to warehouse people, but is instead replacing a dangerous and antiquated building.
The Hall of Justice, built in 1958, was declared seismically unsafe in 1992, and it is in danger of collapsing in an earthquake.
The newer, smaller jail would have pod-style housing similar to the San Bruno jail built in 2006 as opposed to older-style “linear” cell arrangements.
It would also provide more room for classrooms and services like psychiatric care, and allow for an inmate experience that is “more humane… with more light and air,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who was an early opponent of the jail replacement project.
Sheriff's deputies would also have more flexibility for security, including the ability to segregate rival gangs, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has said.
The City would hear back from the state on how much — if any — of the $80 million it will receive in early 2014, according to mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey.
Construction will begin in 2017, with scheduled completion in 2019 — though San Francisco will be feeling the jail's effects much longer than that.
The $290 million sticker price will cost The City $500 million over 30 years, after payments on debt are made, according to City Controller Ben Rosenfeld.