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News + PoliticsSupes reject new jail in sign of changing City...

Supes reject new jail in sign of changing City Hall politics

Mayor's plan goes down 11-0 as policy direction shifts to the board


Sup. London Breed introduced the compromise that maybe killed a new jail
Sup. London Breed introduced the compromise that maybe killed a new jail

DECEMBER 16, 2015 – In a remarkable move that reflects both changes on the Board of Supervisors and a different political climate as we head into 2016, the supes Tuesday unanimously rejected plans for a new city jail.

Mayor Ed Lee and the incoming sheriff he supported, Vicky Hennessy, both strongly backed the idea of building a $215 million facility to house more than 300 inmates on a piece of land near the Hall of Justice.

That 1958 building is seismically unsafe and falling apart, and needs to be torn down.

But the supes decided that the city would do better to spend that kind of money on mental health services, education, and drug treatment.

The message that the vote sends is profound: A major California city, given the option of taking $80 million in state money for a jail, instead said that alternatives to incarceration and the prison-industrial complex are better for the taxpayers and for public safety.

The vote wasn’t everything that jail foes had wanted: Sup. David Campos, among others, had urged that the board outright reject the $80 million grant the state had offered for the facility.

Instead, in a deal sponsored by Sups. Jane Kim and London Breed, the board agreed to table that item – potentially allowing it to come back at a future date, if the state Legislature decides that the city can spend the grant on something other than a jail.

But the sentiment was clear: “By tabling this item today, we are sending a very clear message that any effort to build a new jail will not come out of this body,” Sup. David Campos said. “We are not going to let that happen.”

The debate was historic: Every speaker agreed that the current system of incarceration was a failure. The vast majority of inmates in the county jail system either have substance abuse or mental-health issues or are being held because they can’t afford bail.

In one case that Kim described, a person arrested on charges of theft was held for 300 days, losing his apartment, his car, and custody of his child, before the charges were dismissed.

The outcome reflected months of organizing by criminal-justice reform advocates, led by groups like Critical Resistance and activists like Roma Guy, a longtime health educator and community leader who devoted hundreds of hours to working against the jail plan.

Campos organized a press event Monday that made it clear any attempt at approving a jail would face long odds.

The board agreed to set aside money to buy lots near the decrepit Hall, which could be used for new space for the District Attorney’s Office, the courts, and potentially a facility that focuses on drug or mental-health treatment.

The motion that Breed made sends most of the issues back to committee and directs the sheriff and the Department of Public Health to create a task force to report back in February on alternatives to a new jail.

It also sets aside a modest amount of the money that would have been allocated for the lockup to pay to buy the property.

The danger, of course, is that despite the vote today, the money for a jail is still on the table, and we could see an effort to bring back a smaller facility in the new space.

If the board had outright rejected it, that cash would have gone back to Sacramento and been reallocated to another county. It’s possible the Sen. Mark Leno will find a way to convince his colleagues that San Francisco should be allowed to use money earmarked for jails to build something different. It’s possible that the Legislature, not a bastion of liberal thought, will refuse to change those rules.

In which case the matter will come back to the board and the mayor and the sheriff could make another attempt.

So in some ways this was a compromise that avoided completely killing any chance of a new jail. Sup. Scott Wiener made it clear that he was a bit reluctant to go along: “We have a real crime problem in San Francisco, and we need to make sure that if we reduce the number of jail beds, we have real alternatives,” he said.

But with a progressive majority on the board, the fate of the jail was dubious anyway, and with the mayor’s popularity sinking fast, there wasn’t much political clout behind the proposal.

What we saw Tuesday was a sign of what the next year might bring: While Sup. Aaron Peskin spoke only briefly, his influence on the outcome was clear. He was potentially the sixth vote against the jail, and everyone knew it, and in the end, a deal that everyone (some more happily than others) could live with won the day.

There are good deals and bad deals, and we may see some of both, but this week it became clear that the center of policy discussion for 2016 won’t be the Mayor’s Office. It will be the Board of Supervisors.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  3. I have no interest in the criminals at all. But I do have an interest in the fact that San Francisco is losing all of it’s artists, teachers, nurses, and a multitude of other vital people because of the cost of housing. So are 300 low-lifes deserving of our 215 million dollars? I don’t see what we get out of it and I can think of hundreds of people I’d rather see it spent on. Like building a similarly priced structure to provide extremely low cost housing exclusively to people who work for the SFUSD. Or buying out buildings that are going to be Ellised and turn them over to the residents instead. We have our airport in South City, we can put our jail there too for all I care.

  4. So let’s just stop building jails and prisons even though your supposed
    causes of crime are more prevalent than ever and getting worse and with no solution in sight. What could possibly go

  5. Hi again,
    Well, we don’t really know one another, do we? I’ll spare you my entire autobiography, but it includes working 10 years as a community organizer. And lots more “in the real world.” I apologize for calling you mean -spirited. But, you saw some people when they were in good spirits, but maybe not the times when they weren’t….. Yes, some people don’t want treatment, for a variety of reasons, sometimes because it may not be appropriately given. But, others do, and benefit greatly.

  6. “Wonder why?” Because I go out and live life and meet the people around me.

    If you worked in a position of authority over people in the justice system you will get a different story than of you go out into the wide world and deal with the people around you.

    Mean spirited, the opposite actually. I was pals with the neighborhood hobo’s in North Beach for years when I worked up there. They were in and out of jail for years, they looked on jail as an ordeal but when I saw them buying rocks outside the 21 club they seemed in good spirits.

    All that theory doesn’t really relate to the real world.

  7. Progressive race theory is that all men and women are created equal, and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happoness. Equality before the law, equal opportunity. That’s Preogressive Race Theary – that race should be, irrelevant vid-a-bid citizenship, but that equality is something we all have to work for if we want our nation to be truly free.

  8. Of course, but if we don’t want to continue to be victimized, let us do some things that work. We have more people in prison than any other country. We need to look at the causes of crime also: poverty, racism, greed.

  9. Racism. It begins at the beginning: A white or asian may be given a warning, rather than arrest. I don’t know whether bail is set differently, but many black people do not have the support system that whites or asians have to help them. Once a black kid gets involved in the criminal justice system, it’s hard to get out. Jobs are scarce, especially for blacks; and if you have a record, forget it. Alternatives to incarceration are not “condoning” criminal behavior. Prison simply does not work, and in fact, is counter-productive. Families suffer terribly. It’s tempting to get involved in criminal activity when few alternatives, if any, are available. It’s interesting that the Quakers began the first jail in the late 18th century, as an alternative to cruel punishments. Their idea was to put people in a “cell” (modeled after monasteries) where they could repent. Now, the Quakers,having witnessed the horrors and counter-productivity of prisons, are in the forefront for – not prison reform – but prison abolishment! Most people in prison are not violent, dangerous people – as the media would have you believe – Yes, we need to be protected from some. But, the overwhelming majority are not and, not only they, but we, would greatly benefit from alternatives. We have the illusion that prison protects us, but most prisoners get out at some point. So, what better way to insure they will return than to put them in a brutal environment, break up their families, and probably insure that they will never get a decent job? Crazy…….

  10. Malia Cohen was the 6th vote–she announced it the same time as London Breed, while Peskin and Yee were undecided. That’s presumably because those two have ties to police unions.

    But of course, the fauxgressive Tim Redmond has to shill for the most fauxgressive of all the Supes.

  11. Is that due to the nature of their ‘crimes’?

    Is it due to not being able to acquire bail?

    Is the bail set disproportionately for Black/Latino for similar offenses/record of White/Asians?

  12. So, what’s gonna happen to 850 Bryant? Its gotta go. Courts, DA, (aren’t the cops still there?), and of course those inmates are still housed there.

    So what happens to those agencies? Surely money’s gonna get spent on them. I assume that out of the $215M, a good chunk goes to house those other depts. While the $80M helps to pay for inmates.

    I don’t remember what % Jail #4 houses, but lets just say 25%. Is it really gonna be possible – with Realignmnet – to move an equivalent number of those inmates into drug/mental rehab facility(es)? (with the caveat to keep San Franciscans ‘safe’ – or is that optional, with the focus on inmates?)

  13. As an actual Progressive I am in a much better position than you to say what we mean. When we say ‘minorities” politically we mean those who are both in the numerical minority and who also have an even disproportionally lower political power. This population has frequently included Asians, and sometimes subgroups of disempowered Europeans ( the Irish, Italian, etc.) depending on the circumstances. When we say “poor” we mean those hard-working people of any and every ancestry who, despite doing their best, are still under economic pressure to meet the basic needs of themselves and their family. as for the mind-reading you’re indulging in regarding Sup. Breed, I don’t know your talents.

  14. Good….most people, particularly around here, ignore the victims of crime. And we should be as concerned about them (if not more so) as the perpetrators…

  15. mmm. you’ve met “plenty” of drug types…wonder why? I disagree with your assertion that people don’t want treatment. You sound mean-spirited.

  16. yes, progressives don’t categorize minorities as white or Asian. Of course white and Asians can be poor but that’s not who people of the likes of London Breed are referring to.

  17. Sounds like when you say “poor minority” you mean Black and Latino, since you excluded White and Asian. You do know, don’t you, that Whites and Asians can be poor, don’t you? No, seriously, you do know that, right?

  18. So we should just let poor minority re-offend on the streets because it’s politically incorrect to incarcerate them? If it were white and asian people in the jail would you have a different viewpoint?

  19. Yes, we’re so concerned about criminals let’s keep them in a seismically unsafe rotting jail instead. Diversion programs are great except that they don’t work for all criminals and instead these people end up back on the street re-offending. SF’s hug a thug policy has been largely a disaster.

  20. I am lost on how you could associate the boards vote to the return of Peskin it was unanimous, and all credit should really go to the hard work of London Breed and Jane Kim.

  21. Maybe this vote should have come before they closed down before the eminent domain grab? What happens to the land?

  22. I’ve known plenty of drug types over the years, seldom will you meet one who really wants treatment. Offered drug treatment is like building more bike lanes. The attempted bike riders and attempted ex-drug abusers are just one bike lane or one offered treatment away from reaching clear.

    Also who goes to jail may in general be people who commit crime?

  23. Besides the $80M from the state, the city planned to raise the $215M from issuing Certificates of Participation (bonds). I think that $215 million can only be spent for capital expenses, not mental health services or treatment for addiction. Are the supes interested a separate facility for those activities or just more/better space for those individuals in a new-new jail. It would be also be interesting to know what new/different services for mentally ill and/or individuals with addiction issues would look like, how much they would cost/year, and where those funds would come from.

  24. Mayor Lee, I can’t tell you how much I’ve liked your policies. No, really, I can’t.

    Adios to your power and influence. Strike 1.

  25. Hurray for the supervisor’s rejection of a new jail! As a former commander of the SF women’s jail at and designer and director of the first women’s work and education release program, I saw first-hand who goes to jail (poor, minority people). Treatment for drug and mental health problems and restitution, rather than punishment are the way to go. But, it seems that our culture believes that”if it doesn’t work, do more of it!” Let’s put all that money into prevention, rather than punishment.

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