San Francisco County Jail No. 4 on the top floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. is seismically unsafe, badly designed and prone to plumbing problems. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF speeds up jail closure to early September

The seismically unsafe jail at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice will close even earlier than expected after the inmate population sank to unheard-of lows amid the pandemic, city officials announced Tuesday.

Mayor London Breed and Sheriff Paul Miyamoto plan to shutter County Jail No. 4 in less than two weeks — on Sept. 5 — after the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring the closure by November.

The closure “is part of our broader efforts to shift resources towards alternatives to incarceration that are more effective at creating a safer society for us all,” Breed said in a statement.

“We need to continue to reform our criminal justice system to prevent crime in the first place, end the use of incarceration as an answer to social problems, and reduce recidivism,” she said. “We are all safer if we invest in measures that address the root causes of the majority of criminal behavior.”

Miyamoto said the facility has “outlived its useful life” and put people at risk.

Inmates are among the last people to be moved out of the aging Hall of Justice, which was built in 1958 and deemed seismically unsafe in the 1990s. The facility is still home to the criminal courts, but agencies like the Medical Examiner’s Office and District Attorney’s Office have relocated.

The building has also suffered from plumbing issues. Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved a $2.1 million settlement over more than 200 inmates enduring months of raw sewage spills.

Last year, Breed came out with a plan to close the jail by July 2021. In May, Supervisor Sandra Fewer led the Board of Supervisors in a push to expedite the closure to November after the inmate population across all The City’s jails fell from around 1,100 at the start of the year to below 700 by April.

“In the last few months The City has maintained a significant decrease in the jail population, ensuring the facility can be closed safely,” Fewer said. “Ultimately no one—not incarcerated people, sheriff deputies, or anyone else— should have to spend more time in this dilapidated building.”

The pandemic reduced the number of people being booked and also led to the District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office agreeing to release certain inmates early.

“We were able to reduce the jail population by approximately 40 percent by relying on incarceration as a last resort and working closely with our reentry partners to expedite safe release,” said District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “This significant reduction in the jail population—all while crime rates declined—demonstrates that mass incarceration does not make us safer.”

Public Defender Mano Raju said, “We have both the responsibility and the opportunity to reexamine our response to harm and the needs of our community by shrinking our jail system in every way possible, and closing County Jail 4 is a critical part of that process.”

In March, the Department of Public Health’s Jail Health Services called for a reduction in the jail population to between 700 and 800 inmates to implement social distancing and stem the spread of COVID-19.

Jail records show there are 770 inmates housed in The City’s three jails, intake center and hospital ward as of Tuesday, including 77 people incarcerated at County Jail No. 4.

Inmates at the closing facility are expected to be moved to either County Jail No. 5 in San Bruno or County Jail No. 2 on Seventh Street.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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