Lock-up shake up

Questions raised about longstanding plan for rehab-focused jail rebuild

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Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi testifies in favor of rebuilding the city's jails.
Tim Daw

rebecca@sfbg.com

Should San Francisco spend $290 million on a modernized jail to replace the old ones that will be demolished when the Hall of Justice comes down?

That's been the plan for years, but the Board of Supervisors Budget & Finance Committee started to ponder that question at its Oct. 9 meeting, setting the stage for a larger debate that hinges on questions about what it means to take a progressive approach to incarceration.

The Department of Public Works, in collaboration with the Sheriff's Department, is preparing to submit a state grant application for $80 million to help offset the cost of rebuilding County Jails 3 and 4, outmoded facilities that are located on the sixth and seventh floors of the Hall of Justice.

That building is seismically vulnerable, and slated to be razed and rebuilt under a capital plan that has been in the works for the better part of a decade. With a combined capacity of 905 beds, Jails 3 and 4 were built in the 1950s and are in deplorable condition.

At the hearing, when supervisors considered whether to authorize the $80 million grant application, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said the current state of affairs is so bad that his department had to convert a bathroom to a visitation area because there was nowhere else for inmates to spend time with their kids in the same room. In other areas of the jail, temporarily vacant holding cells sometimes double as classroom space, since the department lacks dedicated areas for conducting classes.

The new jail would be built with somewhere between 481 and 688 beds, based on a lower calculated projected need, and more space would be devoted to programs like substance abuse education, parenting programs, or counseling.

San Francisco currently has five jails, but only one — a San Bruno facility built in 2006 — has what the Sheriff's Department considers to be adequate space for rehabilitative services. Inmates there can opt to earn a high school diploma or take a course in meditation, and the department wants to build on that design in the new facilities.

Mirkarimi urged committee members to sanction the funding request as a first step toward that goal. "Whether it's parenting programs or something that goes much deeper, then we need that space to make it happen," he said.

At the same time, some community advocates questioned the very premise of spending millions on a new jail, arguing that scarce public resources could be better spent on services to prevent people from winding up in the criminal justice system to begin with.

In late August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area called for the plan to be reexamined. "We agree that Jails 3 and 4 in the Hall of Justice should be torn down," they wrote, "[but] we question the need to replace them with a new facility."

Micaela Davis, criminal justice and drug policy attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, told the Guardian that advocates are seeking to reframe the debate by questioning why a new jail should even be built, rather than focusing on what kind of jail should replace the old ones.

She and other advocates are pushing for the county to explore alternatives to jailing arrestees who haven't yet gone to trial, or look at ways of reorganizing housing for existing inmates. Given that the jail has been in the capital plan for so many years, she said, "it just seems necessary to reevaluate before moving forward with this project."

While Sup. David Campos hasn't taken a position so far, he submitted a request at the Oct. 1 board meeting for a hearing "to have an open discussion about what is being proposed, and to really examine if what is proposed makes sense," he said. It's expected to take place in early December at the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee.

Comments

Keeping the public safe is the #1 consideration.

Deterring crime is the #2 consideration.

Putting on classes is a distant third.

The voters have almost always voted for more incarceration of criminals, and most voters don't want prison to be "nice". They want it to suck.

Anyway, the County jails do not house the most serious criminals, who end up in State or Federal prison. Local jails are for those pending trial and sentences of less than a year. If they are sub-optimal it matters less for the simple reason that prisoners do not stay there that long.

Non issue. Just build enough capacity so that we never have to release prisoners only because of lack of capacity.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

Of course that's BS. Votes have gone against the lock-em-up crowd, for instance, 2000's Proposition 36.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_36_%282000%29

Not that it will stop your incessant anon-ymous troll spew.

Posted by lillipublicans on Oct. 18, 2013 @ 10:44 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by gogo on Oct. 18, 2013 @ 10:53 am

They can take a course in meditation? Tax dollars well spent!

Reminds me of how those stories where that 1% tax on millionaires that is supposed to fund mental health services is being used so public employees can take yoga.

Posted by The Commish on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 7:59 am

when people oppose new taxes.

They blabber about basic needs, then when they get a new tax through it goes to idiotic shit like the stuff that has been documented in the 1% tax for mental health.

Today in the examiner dreamers from the cities environmental department are commenting on more coercion for the citizens.

Posted by Matlock on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

Here's the thing about county jail 5 - the one that has high school classes. Inmates released from there have a LOWER recidivism rate than those at 3 or 4. Meaning they're LESS likely to re-offend and go back to jail.

The bottom line is that most people who go through rehabilitative programs in jail come out better than they went in. Those who don't often come out worse. There's a phrase for jails that don't help people change: "Monster Factory."

As for "nice" jails. Inmates HATE going to school. The vast majority are drop outs who would rather watch TV and play cards at taxpayer expense - which is what they're already doing. Why NOT make them spend their tax payer funded time to benefit society?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 9:04 am

do with their time while in jail - it reduces attacks on staff and creates a more cooperative populace. That's proven. I support these kinds of programs from that perspective.

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