San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon Wednesday announced that a $2 million grant awarded to his office by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will go toward efforts to reduce the city's jail population.
The efforts will help address low-level crime repeat offenders suffering from mental health and substance-abuse issues, which, Gascon said, would reduce recidivism and ease jail overcrowding.
"One of the biggest drivers of our jail population today is recidivism. We have a lot of people who are re-offending over and over again," Gascon said. "If you can reduce recidivism, you can reduce the number of crimes, you reduce the victimization and it makes our communities safer."
According to Gascon, people suffering from mental health and substance abuse who commit crimes because of their condition are often held in custody for prolonged periods without access to treatment. When they are released, the lack of treatment contributes to them re-offending.
The funding would be used to hire experts in recidivism to look at data from city departments like Gascon's office, as well as the public defender's office, the sheriff's department, the Police Department and the adult probation department.
Gascon said the efforts to reduce recidivism could help eliminate the need for a new jail to replace the current jail at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., which is set to be demolished at some point in the near future.
In 2016, supervisors rejected an $80 million state grant for the construction of a new jail and instead created a work group to identify incarceration alternatives.
Currently, about 1,300 inmates fill the city's jail on a daily basis, with about 40 percent receiving treatment from jail psychiatric services.
Gascon said he'd like to see the city's daily jail population reduced by about 16 percent over the next two years and city funding to be put toward creating more health-based facilities as an alternative to incarceration.
"The $2 million is really a down payment to get deep into the details and really create a blueprint so that we can then move forward and determine what kind of facilities we need in the future," Gascon said.
Gascon, the city's first Latino district attorney, announced earlier this month he won't seek re-election next year so he can spend more time with his elderly mother. Although Gascon likely won't be in office when any changes are implemented, he'd still like to see reform of the city's criminal justice system.
"The hallmark, I think, of your contributions in life is that you leave a place a little better than when you were there, and if I can achieve that then I will be a very happy person."
The MacArthur Foundation grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $148 million national initiative to reduce incarceration. San Francisco is one of 13 jurisdictions to receive funding.