Smaller new jail might meet SF’s needs, report finds

San Francisco’s criminal justice alternatives — sending offenders to rehab rather than behind bars, for instance — and an inmate population that’s steadily declined over the past decade could eliminate The City’s need for a new $600 million jail.

However, police say the trend of declining arrests won’t last forever, and even die-hard opponents of a plan to build a new 640-person jail agree that the aged, outmoded facilities housing prisoners at the seismically unsafe Hall of Justice are unacceptable.

By 2019, The City hopes to have a new jail at the Hall of Justice for the prisoners housed at County Jails 3 and 4. The existing facility is expected to be unusable after a major earthquake.

But after the state rejected San Francisco’s bid for an $80 million grant to help fund the project earlier this month, opponents are renewing a push to kill off the jail project or reduce its size.

A smaller, 384-person jail might be able to meet The City’s needs at a $194 million price tag, according to a Budget Analyst’s Office report.

The City’s jail facilities in San Bruno and South of Market would be full if the 1,127 people in diversion programs went behind bars instead, according to the report.

Most people in County Jail — about 82.5 percent, according to a recent estimate — are not serving time but rather in pretrial detention, housed because they cannot afford bail.

However, future jails are likely to be fuller, according to police.

The Police Department, which has seen arrests decline by about 10,000 a year over the past few years, is planning to add 300 officers over the next five years.

“And they’re going to make some arrests,” pPolice Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday.

“We’re going to need some kind of new facility in San Francisco,” he said. “The Camelot hope of no jail is just not going to happen.”

Holding pattern

San Francisco’s jail population is projected to steadily decline over the next decade, but County Jail facilities in South of Market would likely be unusable following a major earthquake.

Average daily County Jail population:

2008: 2,015

2013: 1,413 (with 1,127 would-be prisoners in diversion)

2019 (projected): 1,478

Capacity: 1,988*

*Does not include a 372-bed jail used only for training

Source: Sheriff’s DepartmentBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsPoliticsSan Francisco County Jail

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