San Francisco Supervisors Join Activists in Opposition to New Jail Construction - NBC Bay Area
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San Francisco Supervisors Join Activists in Opposition to New Jail Construction

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    San Francisco supervisors on Monday joined activists in opposition to a new jail. (Dec. 14, 2015)

    San Francisco supervisors who oppose construction of a new county jail took to the steps of City Hall today to advocate for alternatives to incarceration and urge fellow supervisors to join them in declining an $80 million grant from the State Public Works Board to fund the $240 million project.

    San Francisco supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim and board president London Breed gathered with former state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano Monday to urge the board to vote down the financing of a new jail when it takes up the issue at Tuesday's meeting.

    While most city officials agree that San Francisco County Jails No. 3 and 4, housed in the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., are decrepit and pose a safety hazard to both inmates and employees, they are divided on whether to construct a new rehabilitation and detention facility.

    If built, the new jail would likely be constructed just east of the Hall of Justice, where a McDonald's restaurant recently ceased operation.

    Breed on Monday shared her personal account of how incarceration has impacted her own family.

    "My brother spent years in 850 Bryant," Breed said, explaining that "he had a drug problem and he needed treatment, not to be locked up."

    Breed said she won't "support a stand-alone prison to lock up African Americans and Latinos" and won't support locking up people who have mental illness or who are battling addictions and in need of specialized treatment.

    She said the state's willingness to give millions of dollars to build prisons across California is wrong and goes against the city's progressive values. She said instead, the state and the city should be investing those funds in helping those who live on the street and who need help.

    "Although it pains me to turn down $80 million, my grandmother used to say, all money ain't good money. And this is bad money. This is money for a bad purpose," Breed said, adding that accepting this money will "continue to destroy people's lives."

    Campos agreed with Breed, saying that San Francisco should be investing in housing and working to tackle issues of homelessness and mental health in the city, saying "the last thing" the city needs is a new jail.

    Campos said instead, money should be placed on bolstering rehabilitation services and alternatives to incarceration.

    Opponents of the project have urged the city to instead renovate existing jails in San Bruno.

    However, proponents, including Mayor Ed Lee, have said that solution is unworkable and would still leave the city in need of more beds and holding facilities.

    The current jails, in addition to being seismically unsafe, are poorly designed for inmate and employee safety, and lack spaces for drug and mental health treatment programs or adequate medical services, city officials said.

    Opponents of the new jail also include District Attorney George Gascon and Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose offices have been raising awareness in recent months about alternatives to incarceration.

    Activists and those impacted by incarceration joined the supervisors Monday, urging the city to invest in housing, education, and healing instead.

    Cecilia Galeano, a 20-year-old San Francisco resident and co-chair of the city's Youth Justice Committee, described how the incarceration of her stepfather while she was in high school impacted her tremendously.

    Galeano said her stepfather's incarceration had numerous negative impacts on her life, sending her family into economic and emotional turmoil.

    Galeano said she wants the city to work instead on reducing recidivism, and wants to see the city invest in youth and not promote incarceration as a solution to the city's problems.

    She said she worries the creation of a new jail will break up more families.

    Lily Fahsi-Haskell, campaign director for the non-profit organization Critical Resistance, said she's optimistic that the city can reduce the number of jail inmates through reforms and don't actually need a new jail.

    Over the summer, the Board of Supervisors authorized the city to seek out the $80 million state grant toward funding the proposed jail despite criticism from some supervisors and members of the public.

    The City Controller's Office released a report in June showing that San Francisco's average daily jail population peaked at 2,321 around 1993 and has since fallen to a current level of around 1,285.

    The report cites policy changes including Proposition 47, a 2014 measure changing some nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, as contributing to the change.

    Supervisors Kim, Campos, Avalos, Breed and Eric Mar are expected to vote against accepting the $80 million in state funding.

    Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who was recently sworn in to the Board of Supervisors, would then be the swing vote on approving the funding.

    Opponents to the planned jail are expected to gather at Tuesday's board meeting to express their disapproval for the project and urge the board not to move forward with it.

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