Early Closure of SF Jail and Increasing Inmate Population pose Health Problems amid Pandemic

7 mins read

The San Francisco County Jail no. 4, the utmost safety facility of the San Francisco County Jail system, had been lately shuttered in early September slashing a big jail house, in response to a report by The San Francisco Examiner. 

The county jail which was beforehand situated on the seventh flooring of the Hall of Justice housed 402 inmates each sentenced and pre-sentenced. The seismically unsafe jail facility was slated to be closed by June 30, 2021 however in a 10-1 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors authorized the acceleration of the shutdown to November. In August, San Francisco determined to drag the plug a month forward of the shutdown and County Jail no. 4 was lastly closed final September 5. 

With the loss of some 400 jail beds and a gradual rise within the inmate inhabitants, Dr. Lisa Pratt is battling one more hurdle in retaining inmates wholesome and stopping a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. Dr Pratt who’s the present Director of the Department of Public Health’s Jail Services has famous that the early closure of County Jail no. 4 has made it “increasingly difficult to keep COVID infections at bay.”

In an October 14 letter by Pratt to legal justice leaders, she cited how the closure had left her isolation cell choices restricted which is strictly “how an outbreak begins in a correctional setting.” Moreover, County Jail 4 beforehand held inmates ready for courtroom hearings however they’re now combined along with different sentenced inmates. 

Although the jail inhabitants dropped beneath 800 when the pandemic started, Pratt remains to be calling for an additional 25 p.c discount to correctly cater the scenario with the latest closure. In an electronic mail to the San Francisco Examiner final October 27, Pratt stated, “We have much less space to safely hold or house incarcerated people and the jail census is showing a clear and worrisome upward trend.” She additionally added that the “confluence of these factors are cause for great concern.” During this time, there was a recorded 835 jail inhabitants, highest since April 1. 

San Francisco has been very profitable in stopping a COVID-19 outbreak behind bars with solely 69 in-custody instances within the seven months because the pandemic started as recorded by the Sheriff’s Department led by Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. This is compared with the greater than 2.200 instances and 28 deaths reported at San Quentin State Prison. City officers have been capable of cut back the jail depend from 1,200 at first of the yr by over 40 p.c in August. This had been potential by way of numerous efforts corresponding to fewer police reserving and agreements between prosecutors and protection attorneys relating to early releases of sure inmates. 

Nevertheless the decision for the depend to fall additional remains to be loud particularly throughout this well being disaster. 

Miyamoto stated that his division is actively and constantly working to maintain the inhabitants low by way of options to incarceration and digital monitoring however he additionally famous that the inmate inhabitants has already been diminished sufficient to “keep those in jail safe”. 

In a press release, he stated, “In San Francisco, the courts ensure only the most serious or violent arrestees remain in jail. We are committed to keeping justice-involved people safe from COVID-19 while protecting public safety.”

Pratt was involved that the colder climate will quickly carry extra COVID-19 instances because the US enters flu season. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases had beforehand famous in a single of his talks that the US must “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.” Aside from the climate, Pratt additionally worries that extra inmates could be ready longer for hearings whereas in custody as a result of courtroom holidays. 

According to the Examiner, “Pratt proposed the use of video court appearances and attorney references “where possible” to stop inmates from mixing holding cells. District Attorney Chesa Boudin and his workplace are additionally now working alongside the Sheriff’s Department to hurry up the discharge course of for many who weren’t charged with a criminal offense. 

“Previously someone in jail whose case our office had decided to discharge would nonetheless often have to wait to be released until the next business day as paperwork was being processed,” Boudin stated. “Because of this partnership, our office is able to directly alert the Sheriff’s Department to release someone immediately when we know a case will not be filed.”

The latest leap within the jail depend is basically credited to a rise in bookings and transfers from different jails and prisons which have been beforehand placed on maintain in addition to the diminished bail to $0 for misdemeanor instances and low-level felonies which maintain charged people longer when they need to be in any other case shortly launched. 

In mild of the pandemic, many are calling out to the San Francisco Superior Court to revive the “zero bail” measure. 

Another effort that’s now being employed to cut back the jail depend is to supply housing for homeless folks launched from jail at some 50 resort rooms. 

Karen Fletcher, Chief Adult Probation Officer, additionally identified the function of racial disparities in additional decreasing the depend. She stated, “We need to continue to examine racial disparities and better understand the potential policies and practices that hold a person in custody.”

As of writing, the US remains to be on the high spot in phrases of confirmed instances reaching the 9 million mark with greater than 200,000 deaths and repeatedly rising. 

Thomas Lake

Resident tech nerd for the SF Times.