Now veto-proof with eight sponsors signed-on after Supervisor Safai confirmed support this past weekend, Fewer’s ordinance to permanently close 850 Bryant heads to the Government Audit & Oversight Committee on Thursday (4/30), where three supporters of the ordinance will review it and hear public comment.
However, entering committee review with a heavy team of Supervisor support, already with seven supervisors signed on after introduction, the ordinance is still facing some opposition in City Hall.
“The decrepit [850 Bryant] gives Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle a run for its money, but despite its disturbing and unsafe state, our city has dragged its feet when it comes to shutting it down,” says Melissa Hernandez, attorney with NorCal chapter of the ACLU and an organizer of the NoNewSFJails Coalition. Now, with our City seeing a historically low number of less than 700 people being held in San Francisco’s jails, and an ordinance on the floor that will shut down 850 Bryant permanently, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto has continued stalling the closure of County Jail 4. Hernandez explained in a Op-Ed published in the SF Examiner last week: “Rather than working to get as many people out of 850 Bryant, Sheriff Miyamoto went as far as publicly threatening to send people to the notoriously dangerous Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County in February of this year. His plan would have also unnecessarily delayed the closure of County Jail 4 until July 2021.”
In defense of the July 2021 closure date, Sheriff Miyamoto claims that earlier closure of 850 Bryant would displace prisoners into close contact with other inmates in SF’s other two county jails, therefore intensifying the spread of COVID-19.
Mohamed Shehk of Critical Resistance and NoNewSFJails Coalition explained to Garrett Leahy of 48Hills how egregious Miyamoto’s opposition is:
“The fact that he’s using the COVID-19 crisis [as a reason for opposing the early jail closure] is frankly shameful. Keeping 850 Bryant open will in no way reduce the risk of COVID-19 among the jail population. Public health experts have stated that prisons, jails, and detention centers function as incubators for the spread of diseases. As we’ve seen in jails across the country, it is the guards that are the most likely vectors… Keeping the jail open won’t stop guards from interacting with prisoners so won’t stop the spread of the disease. What will is releasing people so they can practice social distancing and have access to medical services.”
Similarly, members of a group Stop Crime SF have been emailing Supervisors steeped in racist and classist ideologies expressing fear of people being released from jail due to COVID, insisting that people locked up in SF jails and homeless residents do not deserve access to health and safety, and demanding the ordinance be amended to allow the Sheriff to build more jail beds when needed. As of today (4/27), they have already organized over 70 opposition letters to the GAO.
NoNewSFJails Coalition is calling on all supporters of a jail-free San Francisco to submit public comment to the GAO meeting on Thursday, April 30th, supporting the ordinance and challenging the opposition’s false claims.
As ACLU’s Melissa Hernandez exclaims:
“If the current COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that building up healthcare and housing for all community members—and not our jails—should have been our top priorities all along. Luckily, closing County Jail 4 will free up considerable economic resources to the tune of nearly $25 million. As our City leaves behind this decrepit remnant of the past, it has an opportunity to reinvest those resources into care, not cages, by funding preventative services such as mental health services, residential treatment, housing, free city college, and job training, and alternatives to incarceration such as transformative and restorative justice programs as suggested by the Work Group to Re-envision the Jail Replacement Project in 2017. We have already started building the infrastructure to end mass incarceration in San Francisco. All we need now is the courage to rise to the occasion to close County Jail 4 and end our reliance on putting people in cages, once and for all.”
**This post contains the written work of Melissa Hernandez and Garret Leahy. To read the full articles quoted in this post, check out Hernandez’s SF Examiner Op-Ed here and Leahy’s 48Hills interview with Mohamed Shehk here.