San Francisco DA Calls New Jail Plan Waste of Money, Says More Mental Health Facilities Needed

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to accept $80 million in state funds to rebuild jail facilities.

The district attorney and the mayor are squaring off over the construction of a new jail in San Francisco and hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Wednesday on accepting $80 million in state funds to rebuild jail facilities. One might think the city's top law enforcement officer would be in favor, but he isn't.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is calling it a waste of resources. The DA has his offices inside the old Hall of Justice building, beneath the jail, and he's been pushing for a new building for years, ever since he was chief of police back in 2009. But Tuesday he told reporters that spending $244 million on a new jail to replace the old and crumbling one is a waste.

The building has been deemed seismically deficient. But Tuesday the district attorney walked into a crowded conference room to declare that spending millions on a new jail is a bad idea.

"There is a push to build a jail very quickly that will cost around $240 million in a county where our jail population is down by about 50 percent," Gascon said.

Mayor Ed Lee, Gascon added, is trying to hurry up the vote before he loses a majority of support on the Board of Supervisors.

Gascon said, what's needed are mental health facilities, and he hopes City Hall gets the message.

"Before we rush into making a decision to embark on building a $244 million jail," he said, the city should "consider all the alternatives."

Listening to the district attorney on Tuesday was Chief Deputy Sheriff Matt Freeman, who told NBC Bay Area he disagrees with Gascon, saying the new jail is needed. "We need to accept this money and put it to good use," Freeman said.

Mayor Lee responded to the DA by saying it's not right to house prisoners in an unsafe building. "Therefore it's out of that concern that we need to build a new jail," Lee said.

Asked if he was rushing the vote, Mayor Lee said he's not playing politics. But it's pretty clear that his support on the Board will shift dramatically when the supervisor he appointed is replaced by incoming San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Peskin could take office before January, but it appears the exact timing is up to the mayor.

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