SFDA Gascon Releases Study Casting Doubt On Plans To Build New Jail



News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón


DECEMBER 1, 2015

Twitter: @GeorgeGascon


CONTACT:       ALEX BASTIAN 415-553-1931

MAX SZABO 415-553-9089




SAN FRANCISCO – In advance of tomorrow’s Budget and Finance Committee hearing where Supervisors will vote on a proposal to build a new $240,000,000 jail, District Attorney George Gascón was joined by researcher James Austin of the JFA Institute to release findings of a new study that casts doubt on plans to build a new detention facility.  The study entitled, "Eliminating Mass Incarceration: How San Francisco Did It," showcases San Francisco’s advances in developing and implementing alternatives to incarceration, and draws questions regarding the efficacy of building an additional facility when our current jail remains 50 percent empty. 


“Take a look at virtually any street corner in downtown San Francisco, we have a mental health treatment problem, not a jail capacity problem,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “I’m very concerned as I believe San Francisco is on the cusp of making a terrible mistake that we will look back on as wasteful and out of touch for years to come.” 


The study found that San Francisco has reduced its jail and prison populations at a rate that far exceeds state and national rates.  Its current jail and prison rate of incarceration is 279 per 100,000 population – less than ½ the rate for California and less than 1/3 the national rate.  Meanwhile, San Francisco continues to experience historically low crime rates.  The study also concludes that if the rest of the country matched San Francisco’s rates, the number of individuals under correctional supervision would plummet from 7 million to 2 million.  The nation’s 2.3 million prion and jail populations would decline to below 700,000 and mass incarceration as we know it would be eliminated.   


“The San Francisco Criminal Justice Partners have successfully demonstrated that working together to create a justice system that incorporates alternatives to incarceration, training, education and accountability produces positive results for the community, victims, and those returning to the community trying to rehabilitate their lives,” said former Adult Probation Chief Wendy Still.  “JFA’s report on Eliminating Mass Incarceration: How San Francisco Did It, highlights the effective strategies and provides a roadmap for systems to follow.”


Against this backdrop the concept of constructing a new jail that was envisioned in 2006 is woefully out of touch with our current needs and fails to consider the fact that an entire pod remains vacant at CJ-2, that a recent study released by the Controller found that the Sheriff’s classification system is over classifying the risk of over many inmates, and the fact that no study has ever adequately investigated the prospect of renovating CJ-6 with the $80 million grant from the state to house medium or high-risk inmates.  Moreover, we continue to lease approximately 45 jail beds to the federal government at the seismically vulnerable Hall of Justice.  The Sheriff's Department entered into this agreement a year ago in order to increase revenues, but such an agreement should be terminated and alternatives must be considered before we make such a massive infrastructure investment.  Above all, however, it is imperative to consider the fact that 40% of our entire in-custody jail population suffers from some level of mental illness.  Our current strategy of warehousing mentally ill offenders with the general population ignores the fact that they cannot get the treatment they need in our jails, and that they instead need to be handled through other models such as Behavioral Health Court (BHC).  If even a fraction of this population were instead handled through BHC, we would have more than ample space to house the 350 inmates located at CJ-4 who need to be relocated, and could avoid building a $240,000,000 jail.