With the Hall of Justice in danger of collapsing during an earthquake, city officials are considering shipping inmates to Alameda County to avoid building a new jail despite opposition from Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.
Mayor London Breed is among those who remain interested in sending inmates to Santa Rita Jail after the sheriff came out last week against the idea for emptying County Jail 4, which is seismically unsafe, poorly designed for security and plagued by plumbing problems.
“Everything should be taken under consideration,” Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for the mayor, said Monday. “People need to be in safe and sanitary conditions. To meet that goal, every option should be on the table.”
In 2015, the Board of Supervisors turned down $80 million to help fund the construction of a new jail in favor of creating a working group to focus on ways to reduce the inmate population and avoid building a new facility.
But three years later, with more than 1,300 inmates currently in San Francisco jails on an average day, there are still about 200 to 300 inmates too many to close the jail. And despite increased diversion programs and changes in the bail system, Hennessy expects the jail population to grow in the coming years as The City’s population continues to increase and more police officers hit the streets.
The sheriff first criticized the idea of shipping out inmates last Wednesday at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing on reducing the jail population. Hennessy said The City offers services that Alameda County does not.
“With the concurrence of the Mayor’s Office and the money, we could send people to Alameda tomorrow and close County Jail 4, but then they’d be in Alameda,” Hennessy said at the hearing. “We have a lot of things going on here that they’re not going to get over there.”
Hennessy proposed that The City instead renovate the minimum-security County Jail 6 facility in San Bruno, to accommodate more inmates.
“It’s not an either or issue,” Hennessy said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner on Monday. “It’s not just, ‘I want to do County Jail 6 because I don’t want to send people to Alameda.’ I don’t want to send people to Alameda without a plan to bring them back.”
Hennessy said the San Bruno work would cost an estimated $183 million and would not be completed until 2023. In comparison, plans to build the new jail in 2015 were estimated to cost $240 million.
The sheriff had initially estimated that she would need up to $12 million to plan for the project, but is now seeking between $6 million and $7 million.
On the other hand, the sheriff said sending inmates to Alameda County would cost $148.50 a day per inmate. The City would have to send some 250 to 300 inmates to Alameda County if it closed County Jail 4 at the Hall of Justice without replacement beds currently.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who chaired the hearing last Wednesday, told the Examiner Monday that the best option for San Francisco is reducing the jail population to the point where neither sending inmates to Alameda County or renovating County Jail 6 are necessary.
Mandelman said both options need to be fleshed out, but are still on the table for him.
“None of the options are good, so we’re going to have to choose among bad options,” Mandelman said.
The City has not decided when to close County Jail 4.
“The fact is, it’s going to be some time before they find places for everybody that’s in there right now,” Hennessy said.
Besides having inmates with nowhere else to go, the jail also has a kitchen that serves another facility — County Jail 2.
Plans to build a new kitchen at County Jail 2 are expected to begin next spring and last 12 to 18 months.
The last time San Francisco sent inmates to Alameda County was in the 1980s, when The City was under consent decree to reduce jail overcrowding.
Back then, Hennessy said San Francisco had between 300 and 400 inmates on an average day for more than a year at Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland.
“It was really, really difficult because people didn’t want to go,” Hennessy said. “We had to fight them because people didn’t want to get in the buses.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Board of Supervisors hearing was held last Wednesday.