Group seeks alternatives to building new SF jail

Members of a San Francisco work group tasked with coming up with alternatives to constructing a new jailhouse met for the first time Friday afternoon.

The Work Group to Re-envision the Jail Replacement Project was first created after the board of supervisors voted in January to reject an $80 million state grant for the construction of a new jail and instead proposed the idea of creating a work group that would identify alternative solutions that would instead reduce the city’s jail population.

The 40-person work group consists of Supervisors London Breed and Jane Kim, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, District Attorney George Gascon, and Director of Public Works Mohammed Nuru, among other members who work in mental health and the justice system.

The proposed $240 million jail would have been a replacement for the jail currently at the Hall of Justice, located at 850 Bryant St.

Breed said:

“We all know 850 Bryant is a horrible place. It’s seismically unsafe. We shouldn’t have folks in our prison system being there, nor should we have people who work for the city and county of San Francisco working out of this place. The plumbing is bad, it’s dilapidated, the conditions just are terrible and it needs to come down.”

The group is scheduled to meet once a month as they identify problems within the justice system and come up with ideas on how to curb the jail population while providing services and treatment for mental health disorders and substance abuse problems.

The ideas would then become recommendations for a proposal that would then be forwarded to the mayor and board of supervisors by November.

Members of the No New SF Jail Coalition attended the meeting, advocating that incarcerated people with mental health disorders be sent to residential and treatment facilities instead of jail. Homeless people and people in unstable housing are more likely to get arrested, according to the coalition.

During a public comment portion of the meeting, members said that more affordable housing and programs to get people coming out of jail into housing are viable solutions to reducing the jail population.

Funding for the project has yet to be determined, however some work group members expressed concern that the $80 million originally slated for the jail would be used for the project.

Breed made it clear during the meeting that no jail would be built, however, she suggested she was hopeful that the $80 million could still somehow be redirected to the project.

Breed said:

“There are many people who believe that the extension of the grant means there is still the possibility that a standalone jail would be built and that is not what we are trying to accomplish here. We can do better we can provide something more humane.”

According to Phoebe Vanderhorst, work group member and member of the San Francisco-based organization All of Us or None:

“I feel like there is some disingenuousness going on here, because basically we’ve been opposing the jail. We’re not trying to take the 80 million and use it. We want to give that money back.”