Open Letter from No New SF Jails Coalition
January 11, 2016
To: Board President London Breed
CC: Barbara Garcia, Director of Health, Dept of Public Health and Vicki Hennessy, Sheriff
Dear Board President Breed,
On December 15, 2015, the SF Board of Supervisors took an important step against mass imprisonment policies by voting unanimously to reject state financing to build a new San Francisco jail. Supervisors recognized in their comments that this decision was the result of the determined advocacy of a broad coalition of community forces over two and a half years, including formerly incarcerated, homeless, youth, and transgender people as well as the organizations that represent them. Thank you for standing with the community in this important effort.
Your proposed parallel legislation (File # 151286) convening a working group to recommend a plan for the closure of 850 Bryant and the establishment of corresponding mental health facilities is a strong step towards coming up with solutions to San Francisco’s needs. The No New SF Jails Coalition supports the formation of a working group hosted by the Department of Public Health with participation from community members and organizations as stated in the legislation. We fundamentally disagree with this working group being co-convened by the Sheriff’s Department and believe the Sheriff must immediately plan to close 850 Bryant but should not lead efforts to determine alternatives to imprisonment. We must ensure that any mental health facilities are diversionary hospitals to serve the needs of their patients, not locked mental health facilities where people are treated as prisoners.
Additionally, we want to ensure that community representation on the group is not tokenistic but truly empowers the input of the communities most impacted by incarceration in San Francisco with decision making powers within the working group.
Toward this goal, we propose the following five guidelines in composition:
- A majority of the working group (50%+1) members represent community based organizations including those working with issues such as housing/homelessness, mental health providers/users, and transgender justice
- Representatives from organizations working with formerly and currently incarcerated people be prioritized
- Representatives of San Francisco’s Black community based organizations, which is disproportionately caged in the SF Jail, be prioritized
- The selection process for the working group be transparent
- Community representatives have decision making power on this working group, not purely representational presence
In addition to the deadline for the initial report to the Board (March 31st), we propose several measures ensuring public comment and transparency be included in the legislation and the objectives of the working group.
- A draft of the initial report be released to the public minimum 2 weeks prior to the presentation at the Board of Supervisors meeting to allow ample time for review, research, and feedback prior to discussion at the Board of Supervisors.
- The Board of Supervisors and working group should accept prior written feedback in this two week period as well as provide space for public comment in their first meeting on this issue.
- Minutes (including attendance) from working group meetings be made public
The No New SF Jail Coalition appreciates the important step that has been taken by the Board against the building of a new jail. However, we know this is just a first step. The next steps in this working group must involve true community investment with decision making powers and not merely representation in order to reverse racist policies of imprisonment and criminalization in San Francisco and build a better model moving forward.
Members of the No New SF Jail Coalition
Coalition contact for response to letter or inquries:
Diana Block, California Coalition for Women Prisoners (dianablock2046 @gmail.com)
Lily Fahsi-Haskell, Critical Resistance (lily @criticalresistance.org)