Mayor Breed Calls for Closure of SF County Jail #4 by 2021

History of San Francisco County Jail #4

The San Francisco County Jail at  850 Bryant St. is formally known as County Jail #4 is described by the Sheriff’sDepartment as “a traditional linear jail facility located on the 7th floor of the Hall of Justice. This jail is the maximum security facility of the San Francisco County Jail system. The rated capacity for this jail is 402 inmates and it houses both sentenced and pre-sentenced inmates. Deputy Sheriffs monitor inmate conduct and patrol in cells located on each side of a central corridor or “mainline”. This jail offers inmate programs such as parenting, independent study, alcoholics anonymous, and narcotics anonymous. Parenting skills classes and inmate-child visitation is also offered to mend and heal broken family relationships.״

(See: City and County of San Francisco Sheriff’s Department https://www.sfsheriff.com/jail_info.html)

Construction of the  Hall of Justice was completed in 1962. County Jail #4 is equipped with an industrial size kitchen and also has a full scale laundry operation its own infirmary and provides medical care to the inmate population 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The building has been known to be seismically unsafe since the 1990s yet still  houses over 300 inmates.

Mayor Breed pushes for closure of the Jail by 2021

Mayor Breed announced that she intends to move all inmates out of the unsafe structure by 2021

“It’s important that we move incarcerated individuals out of the existing Hall of Justice as soon as we can and we are exploring all options to transfer people to better and more humane conditions,” Breed said in a statement.

San Francisco has resisted new jail construction

San Francisco has focused on reducing its jail population rather than building a new jail. In 2015, when Breed was president of the Board of Supervisors, it rejected a  $215 million proposal to build a new jail to replace the one at the Hall of Justice. Instead it opted to invest more in diversion programs and mental health services.  Breed said then that the the antiquated jail “needs to come down, but more than a building we need to tear down the system of mass incarceration it represents.”

Retiring Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has said that the inmate population is not projected to drop low enough for to close the jail without needing to move the inmates to another facility.

Sheriff Hennessy has proposed renovating a minimum-security facility in San Bruno to house the overflow population. Mayo Breed is also considering shipping inmates to facilities in Alameda County, alternatives opposed by the Sheriff’s Department

Mayor Breed’s  Office said, “San Francisco is currently exploring the fiscal and physical feasibility of several new options, including out-of-county facilities, but no location has been determined yet.”

Housing sentenced inmates and pre-trial detainees in out-of-county locations would mean that a portion of San Francisco’s jailed population is housed outside the city for years which will add costs for transporting inmates to court hearings and present obstacles for inmates to receive visits from their families and attorneys.  It will likely make scheduling of court hearings for defendants in custody more complex because now inmates are simply escorted and walk to a holding cell outside the courtroom for hearings or trial.

Breed hopes the city’s capital planning committee, which schedules the city’s bond sales, can expedite  the timeline. The committee is chaired by City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who will also oversee a group responsible for designing the future justice center.

“We need to reform our criminal justice system to reduce incarceration, but we also need places to hold people accountable for their actions and to offer rehabilitative services,” Breed said in a statement.

The Hall of Justice has had frequent maintenance issues in recent years, including sewage leaks. Breed said that approaches to the criminal justice system and mass incarceration have changed over the last several decades whereas in the past , “we would just build facilities and incarcerate people without the prospect of rehabilitation or change.”

Now, she she wants to build “a hall of justice that represents how we are today.”