“We can’t incarcerate our way to safety”
Since Chesa Boudin’s first day in office as District Attorney of San Francisco, the No New SF Jail Coalition has watched the total numbers of people locked up in San Francisco jails, to track Boudin’s progress toward fulfilling his promise to reduce the city’s jail population and closing the county jail at 850 Bryant St. This week marks the end of Boudin’s first 100 days in office, and it is now clearer than ever that closing the jail is both possible and necessary.
Less than 2 months into Boudin’s tenure as DA, Governor Newsom announced a state of emergency in California in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, setting into motion the expedited release of nearly 400 people in a little over a month. Since Boudin took office, the jail population in San Francisco has decreased by around 40% and the jail population at 850 Bryant has decreased by over 50%.
These releases in light of COVID-19 show that the people incarcerated in San Francisco jails never needed to be there in the first place and affirm the threat to public health that jailing poses. With only 139 people remaining in the jail at 850 Bryant, this structurally unsound and lethal jail should be closed now, without transferring those incarcerated there to other jails and without relying on alternate, and still harmful, forms of incarcerating people like electronic monitoring. These 100 days have even more clearly revealed that the city needs to be divesting from criminalization and cages that put people at greatly increased risk of disease and death. Instead, the city needs to invest in health-affirming resources like housing, food, and employment that allow people to thrive.
“Despite what proponents of punishment-centered approaches to public safety will have you believe, we can’t incarcerate our way to safety,” says Sophia Simon-Ortiz, Public Health Organizer with Human Impact Partners. “Public safety that truly uplifts public health comes from building infrastructure for good jobs, housing, education, and health services, and ensuring that all residents feel they belong and are connected in their communities with loved ones, not behind bars.”
One significant step towards health in this moment would be to shut down the jail at 850 Bryant. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer introduced legislation to accelerate the closure of the jail to be no later than November 1, 2020. With Supervisors Haney, Ronen, Walton, Preston, Mar, and Peskin also endorsing the bill, one more supervisor is needed to prevent a potential mayoral veto.