SF's New Jail Dream Officially Dies; Now What?

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has rescinded its application for $80 million in state funding to pay for a new County Jail to replace the detention facilities at the decrepit Hall of Justice, effectively putting a final end to a years-long effort to build — against the wishes of many citizens and some elected officials — a new jail in San Francisco.

In December, the Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected the new jail and instead set in motion a working group to figure out alternatives to a new jail. Mayor Ed Lee had supported the project to replace crumbling infrastructure at the Hall of Justice. Yet even with the project rejected, the city’s application for the funding still lingered.

But on Wednesday, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who is part of the working group, sent a letter to the Board of State and Community Corrections withdrawing a 180-day extension request to submit a final project proposal in order to receive the $80 million.

[jump] “The Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Public Works are most grateful for the Board’s favorable consideration of our original application, which would have replaced a deteriorating, antiquated, linear 900-bed facility with a modern, new generation 384-bed treatment and detention center,” the letter reads. “We appreciate the patience you extended to us as we began to work through the process of delivering a successful project. Through this process, it has become clear that many in the San Francisco community are not supportive of using this money to replace any jail beds.”

When the jail project was rejected by supervisors in December, there was some hope that the $80 million could be used by the city in some other way. Yet Hennessy’s letter serves to end San Francisco’s pursuit of the money and frees it up for other counties. She stated that any efforts to the contrary would not be “consistent with my intention to participate fully and in good faith” with the working group requested by the Board of Supervisors.

That group, called the Work Group to Re-envision the Jail Replacement Project, consists of representatives of the Sheriff’s Department and Department of Public Health, along with members of the mental health and criminal justice communities. According to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, the group held its first meeting March 11. Its aim is to find alternatives to incarceration, presenting findings to supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee in November.

The years-long debate over the new jail comes as San Francisco’s inmate population — which is nearly half African American, most of whom are in jail on pretrial detention because they cannot afford cash bail — has declined in recent years.

As of late November of last year, it stood at 1,270. If the county jail facilities at the Hall of Justice were shut down, the city would have a total of 1,230 jail beds.

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