SF Jail Project Moves to Full Board for Vote

Protesters opposed to plans to build a new jail in San Francisco shut down a meeting at City Hall

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

A controversial plan to build a new $240 million jail in San Francisco moved forward Wednesday after a tumultuous hearing marked by a protest that shut the meeting down for several hours and led to the arrest of several people.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday voted unanimously to forward the jail project to the full board for a vote without a recommendation. The committee also agreed to schedule the vote for Dec. 15 rather than Dec. 8 to allow newly-elected Supervisor Aaron Peskin time to be sworn in.

The jail project, which includes the acceptance of an $80 million state grant, the issuance of $215 million in city financing and the purchase of property next to the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., is intended to replace two decrepit, seismically unsafe jails now in use on the site. The proposed new 384-bed facility would have 444 fewer beds than the current jails and include more space for inmate programs as well as units for mental health and drug treatment, according to city officials.

The project faces stiff opposition from opponents who argue the city should instead spend the money on social services and programs to reduce incarceration and crime rates. Opponents have urged the city to instead renovate existing jails in San Bruno, but city officials have said that solution is unworkable and would still leave the jail in need of more beds and holding facilities.

Supervisor Katy Tang today said the conditions in the current jails were untenable and needed to be addressed.

“Some of those arguments really ignore the practical reality of what would happen if this facility were not rebuilt,” Tang said before the committee vote.

The project’s fate before the full board remains uncertain, with some board members expressing opposition. Supervisor Eric Mar, a member of the budget and safety committee, Wednesday said that he would likely be voting against it due to his concerns about incarceration rates and their impact on the community.

“I want to be on the right side of history on this,” Mar said. Wednesday’s vote came after a noisy protest under the No New SF Jail Coalition banner around noon Wednesday. The group, which called for the vote to be postponed, erupted into loud chanting before discussion began, bringing the proceedings to a halt and eventually forcing supervisors to call a recess.

Supervisors Divided on Spending $224 For New San Francisco Jail

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell said he understands people want to rehabilitate offenders, but thinks it’s “naiive” to not build a jail at all. The board was scheduled to vote on whether to accept $80 million in state funding. Stephanie Chuang reports. (Published Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015)

The protest culminated in the arrest by sheriff’s deputies of four females and one male who had chained themselves together. The five were arrested on suspicion of trespassing in a public building, according to a sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

Press Release: In Light of Recent Sheriff Violence, SF Groups Amplify Call to Stop New SF Jail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Wed, April 22, 2015

In Light of Recent Sheriff Violence, SF Groups Amplify Call to Stop New SF Jail

Bay Area community groups to mobilize for Finance and Budget hearings and demand money go to community services, not more police and jails 

San Francisco – Today, the No SF Jail Coalition will attend the Finance and Budget Committee’s hearing to oppose requests from the SF Police Department for increased funding. The department is expected to ask for an additional $23 million to hire 150 more police officers, a move that community advocates argue will only worsen the violence that marginalized communities face at the hands of law enforcement.

“Law enforcement officials want to hire more officers and arrest more people in order to justify building a new $280 million jail,” says Lisa Marie Alatorre of the SF Coalition on Homelessness. “More jails and more police will only mean devastating consequences for people of color, poor, trans, and LGBQ San Franciscans.” The racial implications of policing and imprisonment is starkly exemplified by the fact that African Americans make up 56% of the SF jail population, although they only account for less than 5% of the city’s population.

“The recent revelations of the ‘gladiator-style’ fighting and racist text messages by SF’s law enforcement are simply a reminder of the violence of policing and imprisonment” says Jess Heaney of Critical Resistance. “Now, more than ever, we must stop the Police and Sheriffs Departments from pushing forward plans to expand their violent and wasteful institutions in our city.”

The No SF Jail Coalition, a collaboration of various Bay Area community groups, has been working to get the city to invest in increased services and alternatives to imprisonment, rather than wasting resources on more police and jails. “It’s time we invest in real solutions to public safety, housing, jobs, education, mental health care – not more of the same failed policies that harm our community,” says Alatorre.

The Finance and Budget Committee hearing is scheduled for 1pm at City Hall in Room 250. Spokespeople will be present to speak with press.

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Press Release: New SF Jail Will Harm the Environment, Opponents Argue

For Immediate Release – Thursday, June 4, 2015

New SF Jail Will Harm the Environment, Opponents Argue

No New SF Jail Coalition files appeal to jail planners’ environmental report

SAN FRANCISCO – Yesterday, organizations with the No SF Jail Coalition filed an appeal against a report by the SF Planning Department challenging its claims that construction of a proposed jail would not have significant impacts on the environment. Additionally, over 200 public comments in opposition to the report and the proposed jail have been submitted as of yesterday’s deadline for public input.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), any proposed construction project must go through an environmental review process assessing the project’s potential impacts on air and water quality, geology, traffic, and transportation, among other factors. Instead of conducting the much more rigorous Environmental Impact Report (EIR), jail planners opted for the less thorough Mitigated Negative Declaration, a move harshly criticized as insufficient by community members opposed to the jail.

“We demand that jail planners provide us with a full EIR and not obscure the actual environmental costs and harms of a new jail. The construction of this jail will have major impacts on transportation, public services, and air quality, yet these are not properly addressed in the current report,” said Jess Heaney of Critical Resistance. “Officials are trying to steamroll the approval of the jail, but we will throw every obstacle in their path until we put an end to the project altogether.”

Jail opponents are also raising concern that the project would displace people in Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) affordable housing living in a historic building that would have to be torn down. “It is completely absurd that SF officials want to bulldoze affordable housing units to make way for a jail during what is arguably San Francisco’s worst affordable housing crisis in its history,” says Lisa Marie Alatorre of Coalition on Homelessness. “We should be investing in affordable and supportive housing, not perpetuating the problem by squandering hundreds of millions on more jails.”

Organizers against the jail are gearing up for a public hearing on “Alternatives to Jail Rebuild,” sponsored by Supervisor Jane Kim and Board President London Breed. Community members and residents will be mobilizing for the hearing to urge elected officials to invest in effective alternatives to the jail, such as expanded community-based mental health programs, drug treatment, and bail reform. The hearing will take place at the regular Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting on June 18, 2pm, in Room 250 of City Hall.

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Press Release: Community Groups to Rally and Mobilize Against New SF Jail

For Immediate Release – Monday, March 2, 2015

Community Groups to Rally and Mobilize Against New SF Jail

San Francisco – Today, community organizations and advocacy groups with the SF Jail Fight Coalition will be holding a rally against a proposed jail construction project in San Francisco, and will be mobilizing community members to attend two public city meetings to voice their opposition to the project. Jail opponents claim that public resources should be invested in community services and healthy alternatives to imprisonment, rather than wasted on worsening California’s imprisonment crisis.

Organizers against the jail highlight the fact that San Francisco’s jail population has been steadily decreasing, with 35% of the county’s jail capacity currently unused. “We are proud that San Francisco’s jail population is shrinking, but it is utterly illogical that the Sheriff is responding by proposing a new jail,” says Coral Feigin of Critical Resistance Oakland. “The only population that hasn’t showed a decline in jail numbers is people with mental health issues. This clearly tells us that we need to be investing in effective mental health services and support, not more cages that literally only worsen the problem.”

“Currently, 84% of the people in San Francisco jails are pre-trial, meaning they have not even been tried or sentenced to jail time,” says Lisa Marie Alatorre of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. “Yet, they are still locked up simply for not being able to afford bail. San Francisco is in essence criminalizing the poor.” Advocates say that revising bail schedules and expanding pre-trial diversion programs are just two examples of simple and effective alternatives that would make a costly new jail unnecessary.

Critics also argue that the gross disparities in the jail population reveal the damaging role imprisonment plays in maintaining a system that targets people of color, poor and working class communities, and people who have mental illness.

“Although African Americans make up only 4% of San Francisco’s population, they account for 56% of the jail population. Latino children are three times more likely than their white counterparts to have a parent locked up,” says Janetta Johnson of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. “Building a new jail would deepen these disparities and further criminalize communities most impacted by imprisonment, including Black and Latino communities, trans people, the homeless population, and those with mental health issues.” Organizers also argue that a new jail would intensify the targeting of marginalized populations in the face of increasing gentrification in San Francisco.

The SF Jail Fight Coalition will be rallying outside the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant St., beginning at 5:30pm. The rally will then march to a public meeting hosted by SF Public Works and the SF Sheriff’s Department about the jail project’s environmental review process, to take place at the Community Assessment & Service Center, 564 6th St., from 6pm to 8pm. Community members are also mobilizing to attend San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee meeting at 12pm at city hall, Room 201, where the jail plan will be voted on.

Press contacts will be available at the rally and public meetings for interviews.

The Problem Isn’t the Sheriff — It’s the Jail

The problem isn’t the sheriff — it’s the jail

By Andrew Szeto
Last month, reports emerged on the “gladiator-style” fights between prisoners orchestrated by San Francisco sheriff deputies inside county jails.

This outrageously callous and cruel behavior by the four deputies implicated in Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s investigation is a gross mismanagement by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s office. It has led to rightful outrage and disbelief that such inhuman acts could happen under our city’s watch.

But such revelations are also indicative of a larger systemic problem of institutionalized racism, criminalization and police violence. The spectacle of the gladiator fights is itself an extension of the inherently violent relationship between prisoners and guards, where one class of people is subjected to the routine and structurally enforced violence of another.

If we are to only blame the sheriff and his department’s “culture of permissiveness” for the brutal fighting ring, as the San Francisco Chronicle report and its follow-up article March 31 suggests, we misrepresent and ignore a significant precondition for such violence: the jail itself.

We know that blacks currently comprise 56 percent of the jail population in the county, while they account for less than 4 percent of the city population. We also know that about 80 percent of prisoners are pretrial, meaning they have not yet been sentenced to any time and are only there because they cannot afford bail. A majority of the jail population is also mentally ill.

Replacing some bad apples is not going to change these statistics. Individuals such as Mirkarimi, the deputies, and especially Scott Neu, who has previously been accused of sexually assaulting prisoners, are no doubt despicable. But it is the reality of violence, control and racism that our current jail system perpetuates that should ultimately be the focus of our attention, not any particular individual.

No new jail.

A new $278 million project to rebuild the county jails and the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. is currently being spearheaded by the Sheriff’s Department, with promises of more modern and safe facilities. There is unanimous agreement among elected officials and the community that 850 Bryant must be closed because it is seismically unfit, decrepit and needs to be torn down.

The proposed jail will have fewer beds and include a special facility for transgender people. It has been advertised as “good for families, good for trans women and good for San Francisco,” the same language that counties across the state are using to sell the newest wave of imprisonment under the guise of providing services.

Yet in light of the recent reminder of such violence and brutality, how are we to believe that a new jail — like a new sheriff — will be a solution? San Francisco’s imprisonment rate is at about half the state’s average and has continued to drop. This decrease, along with the fact that the county’s jail capacity generally hovers at around 50 percent, makes a new jail completely unnecessary.

In addition, the $300 million can be better spent on long-term supportive housing, better mental health care and expanding diversion programs — real solutions that have contributed to the declining jail population and don’t rely on building more cages.

There is growing opposition against the new jail, with supervisors Jane Kim and London Breed being the most vocal elected officials to question the necessity of spending close to $300 million on it.

Since 2013, the No SF Jail Coalition, a group of homeless advocates, transgender prisoner supporters and community members opposed to incarceration have been working to stop the construction of the jail as well as the associated criminalization of people that is leading to their arrests.

If our elected officials, particularly Mayor Ed Lee, are outraged by the “gladiator-style” fighting, then the logical next step would be to intervene to make sure that the city does not waste resources on a new building that is entrenched in that same violence.

Andrew Szeto is a member of the No SF Jail Coalition and is a tenant organizer in San Francisco.

March 2nd Mobilization

The No SF Jail Coalition mobilizes the community to fight the proposed new jail and demand accountability from the city officials!

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On March 2nd, 2015, we mobilized an action outside of the site of the proposed new jail to show the impact that the jail would have on the community in San Francisco and demand real solutions for the people of San Francisco. As a collective group we attended the community meeting on the environmental impact of building the jail. After listening for an hour to many city officials attempting to sell the jail to the community, we realized that this meeting would not  address the community’s concerns about the impacts of building a jail in the Soma. The planning department has since claimed that there are so few environmental concerns that an entire Environmental Impact Report need not even be carried through. Yet the community has seen none of the necessary preliminary studies they conducted to get to this conclusion nor have we received any transparency or accountability about this process despite our demands.