SFDA Office Awarded $2 Million to Enhance In-Custody Treatment of the Mentally Ill, Reducing the City's Jail Population by Reducing Recidivism, and Eliminate the Need For a Replacement Jail Facility

Please Note:  DA Gascón is available today at 1 PM at the Hall of Justice for media.


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News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón

October 24, 2018

Twitter: @GeorgeGascon
SFDA CONTACT: Alex Bastian (415) 553-1931 | Max Szabo (415) 553-9089

Funding from the MacArthur Foundation Will Help Reduce Recidivism and Build on Progress Toward Eliminating Jail Overuse and Misuse

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Today, District Attorney George Gascón announced that The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to the District Attorney’s Office to reform the local criminal justice system.  The funding will support the implementation of strategies that address the main drivers of local jail incarceration, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.  The funding will help eliminate the need for a replacement jail facility.

“We cannot rely on 20th century tools to address 21st century problems,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “From the streets to our jails, the way San Francisco has responded to the growing epidemic of mental illness and substance abuse is not yielding the results that the community deserves. It’s been three years since the city rejected a proposal to build a new jail; it’s long past time to embrace the science, the research, and a new paradigm.”


For decades, police and prosecutors have been relied upon to effectively warehouse the mentally ill and drug addicted.  This is not only inhumane, research shows that incarcerating the mentally ill and drug addicted is counterproductive to rehabilitation, thereby undermining long-term community safety by increasing recidivism.  In practice, individuals arrested and convicted of low-level offenses that stem from a defendant’s mental illness and/or substance abuse are not held in-custody in perpetuity.  When released, the failure of the criminal justice system to treat what are, in fact, public health and social ills leads to extraordinary rates of re-offense.  High levels of re-offense contribute to jail overcrowding.


This dynamic is especially true in San Francisco, where only those offenders who commit more serious crimes are in custody long enough to receive a referral to an inpatient treatment facility. This is because justice-involved individuals with mental illness are de-prioritized, resulting in a 120-day average wait for a bed in a community-based residential treatment program.  The result is that individuals with mental illness deteriorate in our jails just to be released to our streets without having been treated and in worse condition.  This dynamic is a significant contributor to San Francisco’s mental health crisis and a major recidivism driver.  It is also the reason that our jail remains San Francisco’s largest behavioral health facility.


According to the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, approximately 40 percent of San Francisco’s jail population receives treatment from jail psychiatric services, and fully 15 percent suffer from a serious mental illness.  San Francisco’s average daily jail population is approximately 1,300 inmates. Therefore, solving the mental health crisis in our jails has tremendous consequences for both quality of life and taxpayers who may otherwise be required to foot the bill for the construction of a new jail. 


In partnership with the Sherriff’s Department, Superior Court, Department of Public Health, Public Defender’s Office and Adult Probation Department, and under the auspice of the Sentencing Commission, the District Attorney’s Office has developed a comprehensive plan for local justice system reforms with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 16 percent over two years.  These reforms will enhance system efficiency and public safety by reducing recidivism, and will therefore negate the need for a replacement facility.  Key strategies and initiatives to achieve this goal and create a safer, more effective system include:


●       Pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion strategies;

●       Criminal sentencing and correctional strategies that emphasize rehabilitation and reduce recidivism;

●       Improvements to case processing efficiency;

●       Enhanced services for people with mental illness or substance abuse issues involved with the justice system; and

●       Root out disparity and racial bias.


Each of these strategies is designed to emphasize fairness while prioritizing public safety and victim protection. 


“There is growing demand for criminal justice reform across the country, and local jurisdictions are leading the way,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Justice Reform. “MacArthur is increasing our investment because we are seeing promising results and an appetite for more reform as evidenced by the diversity and creativity of the solutions implemented and tested across the Network. While progress is not always easy, and there is no single solution or quick fix, these jurisdictions are proving it is possible to rethink local justice systems from the ground up with forward-looking, smart solutions.”


The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $148 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. 


The Safety and Justice Challenge is supporting local leaders in San Francisco and across the country determined to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. San Francisco was first selected to join the collaborative Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2017 with grant funding for a targeted project focused on the development and implementation of  a web-based justice system recidivism analysis dashboard, integrating data from multiple justice agencies with the goal of enhancing data-driven sentencing and supervision policies and further enable San Francisco to assess progress in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.


Today, San Francisco was one of 13 jurisdictions selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date. With this funding, San Francisco joins 20 other Challenge jurisdictions already receiving deep investment from the Foundation to implement local reform, in addition to 12 new jurisdictions joining the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.


Three years after its public launch, the Challenge Network has grown into a collaborative of 52 counties, cities, and states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country. The jurisdictions involved with the Challenge are already yielding promising initial results toward reducing jail populations and expanding alternatives to incarceration. For example, since joining the initiative, Philadelphia has decreased its jail population by 36 percent and Cook County, Illinois by 26 percent.


Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to The District Attorney’s Office San Francisco partners, and the other jurisdictions involved in the Challenge: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, Policy Research, Inc., and the W. Haywood Burns Institute.


More information about the work underway in San Francisco can be found on https://sfdistrictattorney.org as well as onwww.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.




About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information about the Foundation’s criminal justice reform work can be found at www.macfound.org/criminaljustice.