San Francisco County Jail No. 4 on the top floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. is considered seismically unsound, has an unsafe design and suffers from chronic plumbing problems, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisors order speedy closure of unsafe Hall of Justice jail

Legislation from Supervisor Fewer will shutter aging facility by November

More than two decades after the Hall of Justice jail was deemed seismically unsafe, San Francisco is officially planning to shut down the dilapidated facility within the next six months.

Led by Supervisor Sandra Fewer, the Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 Tuesday to approve legislation requiring the expedited closure of County Jail No. 4 on the seventh floor of the courthouse at 850 Bryant St.

While Mayor London Breed previously ordered the shutdown by July 2021, inmates must now be moved out by Nov. 1.

“This legislation is simply creating a mandate to close a facility that everybody agrees needs to close, only on a more aggressive timeline,” Fewer said ahead of the vote. “Let’s do what needs to be done.”

Fewer found support for her legislation as the inmate count dipped below 700 during the COVID-19 pandemic, far below a long-established goal of having no more than 1,044 inmates in the system to allow for closing the jail without overcrowding the two remaining facilities.

While Sheriff Paul Miyamoto has raised concerns that the inmate count could spike back up once the crisis is over, he seemed to stop opposing the legislation after several amendments offered him more “flexibility to accommodate any future fluctuations in the jail population.”

Namely, the legislation directs a subcommittee of the Sentencing Commission to come up with a contingency plan for housing inmates in the event of an influx of inmates after the jail is closed.

But the subcommittee, which will produce reports in August and October, is not allowed to consider transferring inmates to another county or adding new jail beds to the system outside of the rehabilitation of an existing facility like County Jail No. 2.

“Our office is deeply committed to closing County Jail No. 4 for the health and safety of everyone there,” said Miyamoto, who has sought to close the jail by shipping inmates to Alameda County and rehabilitating County Jail No. 2. “It’s seismically unsafe, outdated and dilapidated.”

Only Supervisor Catherine Stefani voted to oppose the legislation, saying that she struggled to balance the necessary closure of the facility with the public safety needs of The City.

“While I agree we do need to close this jail,” Stefani said. “I don’t believe we can do that until I demonstrate to my constituents any way that in doing so, we aren’t putting victims of crime — especially domestic violence and sexual assault victims — at risk.”

Stefani said she has not yet received answers from the sheriff on questions including what charges inmates who are being released to reduce the jail population are facing. The public defender and district attorney have agreed on the early releases of at least 40 individuals to empty out the jails and prevent a coronavirus outbreak behind bars.

Supervisor Norman Yee, president of the Board of Supervisors, said the jail is not being closed in an “irresponsible way.”

“It is dangerous and irresponsible for anyone to spread misinformation and rumors that this legislation would somehow make us less safe,” Yee said. “We are not releasing individuals who would be a threat to themselves or the public.

“We are upholding public safety while also ensuring that we do not allow for this unsafe facility to continue operating,” he added.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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