Oct 17: A Response to Mayor Breed: San Francisco Can Close 850 Bryant Without New Jails or Transfers

Response to Mayor Breed’s Proposal by the No New SF Jail Coalition
Press Contact: Mohamed Shehk –mohamed@criticalresistance.org, No New SF Jail Coalition

Today Mayor Breed announced a delayed closure of the jail at 850 Bryant that would potentially keep people imprisoned in the seismically unsafe building until July 2021. While we anxiously await the closure, we note, on the anniversary of the Loma Prieta disaster, that this date does not come soon enough. The City Administrator previously announced that the Hall of Justice should close by 2019, yet today London Breed has announced people may stay in the decrepit jail for almost another two years. The No New SF Jail Coalition believes it is possible to close the jail by July 2020, and will still pursue this time frame despite Breed’s announcement.

The fastest way to ensure the safety of people inside the jail is to work towards release and decriminalization. These efforts were intended to be part of an initiative of population reduction that Breed herself initiated in 2015 when the Board rejected a replacement jail. Contrary to that initiative, today’s vague plan would construct a replacement jail and leaves open the possibility of transferring people to the notoriously horrid Santa Rita Jail over the next two decades or re-opening the closed jail at San Bruno. This is unconscionable.

Paul Wilbert Lee Sr. died in January of 2018 as a result of abuse and medical neglect while in Santa Rita Jail. In response to Mayor Breed’s announcement, Lee Sr.’s sister Tanasha Lee stated: “What is the purpose of transferring prisoners to another facility? That’s not going to make prisoners better. They treat you like animals in Santa Rita, especially Blacks and Latinos. They don’t give anyone proper health care and my brother died from Santa Rita Jail abuse and neglect. I’m not just fighting for justice for my brother, I’m fighting for every person who has a family member in Santa Rita.

That includes people in 850 Bryant who might be transferred there if this proposal moves forward. Instead, we need to create places and opportunities where people can rebuild themselves out in the public and not in a jail — there shouldn’t be a transfer and there shouldn’t be a new jail facility built where people will still be mistreated.” 

Santa Rita Jail has been noted as the “most dangerous place in Alameda County” where there have been multiple recent lawsuits surrounding deaths, pregnancy miscarriages, and sleep deprivation. Additionally, Alameda County Sheriffs have confirmed their practice of alerting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of release dates of immigrants, effectively supporting ICE to arrest immigrants when leaving jail custody. The No New SF Jail coalition firmly opposes any transfers out of county and calls on the Board of Supervisors to make a commitment against this and refuse to allocate any budget to transfers. Opposing transfers does not lock us into re-opening the closed jail at San Bruno as a maximum security jail as Sheriff Hennessy has indicated in the past. Nor does it mean that San Francisco must build a new jail.

Opposing transfers does not lock us into re-opening the closed jail at San Bruno as a maximum security jail as Sheriff Hennessy has indicated in the past. Nor does it mean that San Francisco must build a new jail. San Francisco can still be a leader in closing jails through pretrial reform, decriminalization, and investments in community resources.

Breed’s proposed “Justice Campus” is an attempt to reincarnate plans that the city has already decided against. For instance, the “Behavioral Health Justice Center” was voted down in 2017; supervisors unanimously voted against building a new jail in 2015. The No New SF Jail opposed both of these proposals, and calls on the Supervisors to reject any new proposals that resemble them.
“Building a new jail is not a solution. Investing and reallocating funds into communities to create holistic change is what we need. Jails, prisons, and detention facilities don’t help people, they are physical structures that are built to break people of color spiritually and mentally. It is important that we center people that are directly impacted by incarceration as it externally impacts the lives of their families. This is the time to shift towards healthy practices that can and will support people to live their best lives,” said K.I Finao (they/them pronouns) of the Young Women’s Freedom Center.  

Tomorrow, Suzy Loftus will officially be sworn into her position as District Attorney in an unpopular move by Mayor Breed. In tandem with today’s announcement regarding proposed jail construction this signals a lack of confidence that the new District Attorney will be committed or able to significantly reduce the jail population size.

“At its core, this campaign is not just about closing 850 Bryant but is about reconciling the fundamental racial and economic injustices of jailing by addressing the problem at its root through housing, mental healthcare, and decriminalization. We do this work for and with others impacted by jailing, 40% of whom are homeless. The jailed population is now potentially the newest group to be displaced out of San Francisco to the East Bay among so many others,” said Sam Lew of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The No New SF Jail coalition and supporters of the closure of 850 Bryant will be attending tomorrow’s hearing at the Board of Supervisors and calling for action in support of closure of the jail at 850 Bryant without any proposed new jail construction or transfers.