SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to turn down an $80 million grant from the State Public Works Board to help fund the construction of a $240 million proposed jail.
Board president London Breed presented a compromise to the board Tuesday that stops a plan to build a new jail in the city and puts in motion efforts to identify alternatives to incarceration while also determining ways to get people out of jail who suffer from mental illness and addiction, or who don’t have the financial means to make bail.
Breed said that while she won’t approve the construction of a standalone jail, she said that jails no. 3 and no. 4, located at 850 Bryant St. are seismically unsafe, decrepit and need to come down.
But, Breed said, “more than the building, we need to tear down the system of mass incarceration.”
Breed’s comments met with cheers from a crowd of activists in chambers who vehemently oppose the construction of a new jail.
She said the new system should focus on providing effective mental health treatment and “less on the system that exaggerates the cycle of crime and recidivism.”
Breed, however, said she is “certainly not opposed to a new facility” that incorporates a greater investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment.
On Monday, Breed gathered on the steps of City Hall with activists and fellow supervisors and shared her personal account of how incarceration has impacted her family.
“My brother spent years in 850 Bryant,” Breed said, explaining that, “he had a drug problem and he needed treatment, not to be locked up.”
She said she’s optimistic that the board can reach a consensus without losing that state funding. She suggested that the city purchase the land proposed to accommodate the new jail and use it to house necessary city departments that currently occupy 850 Bryant St.
Breed called on the city’s Public Health Department and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to create a working group in order to prepare for closure of jails no. 3 and no. 4 at the Hall of Justice and identify what new facilities are needed, while maintaining eligibility for state funding.
Supervisor Jane Kim said the new facility should reflect the needs of inmates. If inmates are homeless, she said, build homes, if they are mentally ill, “let’s build hospitals.”
Campos said Tuesday’s decision to table the acceptance of $80 million, will send a message that the board will not support a standalone jail.
Supervisor Scott Wiener said that while he supports tabling the issue, he reminded the board that in San Francisco “we have a real crime problem,” noting that if and when the city removes jail beds, the city must make sure that alternatives are in place or “we will be in trouble.”
Opponents of the project have urged the city to instead renovate existing jails in San Bruno.
However, proponents, including Mayor Ed Lee, have said that solution is unworkable and would still leave the city in need of more beds and holding facilities.
Opponents of the new jail also include District Attorney George Gascon and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose offices have been raising awareness in recent months about alternatives to incarceration.
The City Controller’s Office released a report in June 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.
Outgoing San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said in a statement released Tuesday evening that the decision not to move forward with the new jail, “may induce a meaningful response to the increasingly complex population of people suffering with behavioral health problems, the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos, and the uneven role that the money-bail system plays into the criminalization of poverty.”