Supervisors Signal Support of New Jail Despite Outcry of Criticism

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal to have a new jail project undergo an environmental impact review and voted in favor of authorizing the city to seek out an $80 million state grant toward funding the proposed $240 million jail in San Francisco, despite an outcry of criticism from within the board, as well as the public.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who oversees the jails, is the first to admit that county jail no. 3 and county jail no. 4 in the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. are inhumane and decrepit.

The current jails, in addition to being seismically unsafe, are poorly designed for inmate and employee safety, according to city officials.

They also lack spaces for drug and mental health treatment programs or adequate medical services, city officials said.

But many San Francisco taxpayers, as well as members of the board of supervisors, district attorney’s office and public defender’s office, have expressed their disapproval of any new jails being built, citing declining jail populations and alternatives to incarceration.

The City Controller’s Office released a report last month showing that San Francisco’s average daily jail population peaked at 2,321 around 1993 and has since fallen to a current level of around 1,285.

The report cites policy changes including Proposition 47, a 2014 measure changing some nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, as contributing to the change.

Critics are instead championing increased funding for alternatives to incarceration, such as rehabilitation programs.

The hearing Tuesday before the full Board of Supervisors, on whether to move forward with the proposed project, brought numerous critics to the podium.

Lisa Marie Alatorre and Mohamed Shehk, of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, objected to the project saying it necessitates an environmental impact review prior to moving forward. They said inmate well-being was at stake.

Critics said that funding of more supportive housing could keep people out of jail and provide services without attaching a criminal record.

The project is strongly opposed by the No New SF Jail coalition, a collection of community groups including the Coalition on Homelessness, Critical Resistance and San Francisco Taxpayers for Public Safety, among others.

In a 7-3 vote Tuesday, the appeal was shot down and the board approved the funding application.

Supervisors Jane Kim, Eric Mar and John Avalos were in favor of the project undergoing an environmental impact review and against the authorization of an application for $80 million in state funding. Supervisor David Campos was absent for the vote.

If built, the new jail would be constructed just east of the San Francisco Hall of Justice, where a McDonald’s is currently located.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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