SF coalition announces plan to reduce city's reliance on county jail

- A coalition of community groups in San Francisco today called for a reduction in the reliance on county jails as city officials consider what to do about jails in the Hall of Justice that are seismically unsafe.
   
At the announcement in front of City Hall, Supervisor John Avalos, who has opposed building a new jail to replace jails No. 3 and 4 on the top two floors of the building at 850 Bryant St., called for a comprehensive approach to preventing violence as a way to reduce the inmate population.
   
"If we don't keep up with a comprehensive approach in our neighborhoods then we see a flare up in violence," Avalos said.
   
The coalition's plan calls for city officials to invest in community groups, which can provide housing, mental health care, access to jobs and other services that would reduce recidivism and prevent others from offending.
   
Overall, the coalition, which also included members of Communities United Against Violence, the Coalition on Homelessness and Critical Resistance, proposed eight ideas to reduce the reliance upon jails in San
Francisco.
   
The community services should be accessible to all and there should be pathways to permanent housing and other needs to provide for a stable and secure future, according to the coalition.
   
They said any new facilities should be open rather than locked and services should be user-led and self-determined and should be operated by community groups separate from the sheriff's department, which oversees the jails.
   
Bail and bond reform should be part of any plan and city officials should coordinate new services so that the jails at 850 Bryant St. can be closed immediately, according to the group.
   
Some members of the coalition went so far as to call for a jail-free San Francisco. The coalition's plan says money for social and economic needs should be a priority over money for jails.
   
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who also spoke at today's event, stopped short of calling for no jails. He said unless someone is suspected of a serious offense, they should be released until they have been proven guilty or innocent.
   
Adachi said San Francisco needs bail reform so how much money a person has doesn't determine whether they remain in jail.
   
"We want to eliminate the cash bail system," he said.
   
Eliminating the cash bail system would give low-income offenders the opportunity to be free while waiting for a court date, which would shrink the jail population.
   
"It's about basic fairness," he said.
   
As part of the announcement, the coalition members said they oppose a proposal by District Attorney George Gascon to build a mental health justice center to move the mentally ill, including people with substance abuse disorders, out of the county jail.
   
Gascon's proposal says the facility would not be a new jail but a center with an emergency mental health reception center and respite beds, short-term transitional housing, a secure inpatient transitional care unit and a place for long-term dual diagnosis treatment.
   
Gascon said the county jail is currently the largest mental health facility in San Francisco and he has called for an end to criminalizing the mentally ill.
   
Avalos said city officials need alternatives to locking up people with a drug problem. He did not say whether he supports Gascon's proposal.
   
The Board of Supervisors last December rejected an $80 million state grant that would have gone toward the construction of a new jail to replace the ones at the Hall of Justice.
   
The Bryant Street building has been deemed seismically unsafe. Other city operations previously housed there, including the Police Department's headquarters, have already moved to new locations while the district attorney's office and dozens of courtrooms remain there.
   
More details about the initiative announced today can be found online at:

https://nonewsfjail.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/san-francisco-community-health-initiative-09072016-noblanks.pdf.
   
 

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