City officers closed San Francisco County Jail No. 4 on the highest ground of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in September, lowering the quantity of beds within the jail system by about 400.
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner

The broadly celebrated closure of San Francisco’s decrepit Hall of Justice jail has created a brand new hurdle for the doctor in cost of preserving inmates wholesome: The City is working out of area to stop a coronavirus outbreak behind bars.

A gradual rise within the inmate inhabitants within the weeks after San Francisco misplaced some 400 jail beds by shuttering County Jail No. 4 in early September has made it “increasingly difficult to keep COVID infections at bay,” mentioned Dr. Lisa Pratt, the director of the Department of Public Health’s Jail Health Services.

The closure left Pratt with out “nearly enough” cells to isolate inmates who might grow to be COVID-19 constructive and likewise decreased the area out there on the Hall of Justice for holding inmates forward of courtroom hearings, which means that inmates who would in any other case be in numerous housing clusters are blended collectively.

“This is how an outbreak begins in a correctional setting,” Pratt wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to felony justice leaders. After efficiently pushing for the jail inhabitants to drop under 800 when the pandemic started, Pratt is now calling for one other 25 % discount to 600 inmates in mild of the current closure.

“We have much less space to safely hold or house incarcerated people and the jail census is showing a clear and worrisome upward trend,” Pratt mentioned Tuesday in an electronic mail to the San Francisco Examiner. “The confluence of these factors are cause for great concern.”

San Francisco has to date succeeded the place others have failed in stopping a COVID-19 outbreak behind bars. While more than 2,200 circumstances and 28 deaths have been reported amongst inmates at San Quentin State Prison, Sheriff’s Department data present there have been simply 69 in-custody circumstances in The City within the seven months because the pandemic started.

City officers managed to cut back the jail rely from round 1,200 in the beginning of the yr by 40 % to a low of 738 in August by varied efforts together with fewer bookings by police and agreements between prosecutors and protection attorneys for sure inmates to be launched early.

The Board of Supervisors seized on the declining rely in May to velocity up the long-awaited closure of County Jail No. 4, passing an ordinance that required Sheriff Paul Miyamoto to shut the seismically unsafe facility by November. Miyamoto later joined Mayor London Breed in agreeing to shut the jail in September — even before required.

For Miyamoto, the inmate inhabitants has already dipped low sufficient to “keep those in jail safe.” Still, he mentioned his division is working to preserve the inhabitants low by digital monitoring and different options to incarceration.

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

Others mentioned the rely wants to fall additional.

“We have to defer to Dr. Pratt’s medical and public health expertise and experience as to the number of people the jail can safely house,” mentioned Danielle Harris, a managing lawyer on the Public Defender’s Office. “The Public Defender’s Office is working on many fronts aimed at reducing the jail population.”

Pratt despatched her letter on Oct. 14 when the jail rely reached 835 inmates — its highest level since April 1, she mentioned. Sheriff data present the rely has since dropped again down to 779 as of Tuesday.

But Pratt was involved that the colder climate and holidays will quickly convey more COVID-19 circumstances. She additionally nervous that more inmates can be held in custody longer with hearings delayed for courtroom holidays.

Pratt proposed the use of video courtroom appearances and attorneys conferences “where possible” to stop inmates from mixing in holding cells. On Tuesday, she mentioned the courtroom is “moving to require more video visits.”

She additionally known as for the varied felony justice leaders to “move quickly and creatively to continue to divert people from jail and decrease their length of stay.”

District Attorney Chesa Boudin mentioned his workplace is now working with the Sheriff’s Department to velocity up the release course of for those that aren’t being charged with against the law.

“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 mentioned. “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.”

Boudin mentioned he hopes “streamlining this process will help keep our jail population numbers down and will protect the people who live and work in the jail from the risk of the virus’s spread.”

Pratt attributed the current soar within the jail rely to a rise in bookings and transfers from different jails and prisons that have been beforehand placed on maintain.

Also in June, the state Judicial Council rescinded an emergency order that decreased bail to $0 for folks accused of misdemeanors and low-level felonies, which means that some who would in any other case be rapidly launched are held longer.

Pratt, Boudin, Public Defender Manohar Raju, Pretrial Diversion Project CEO David Mauroff and the San Francisco Bar Association have all known as on the San Francisco Superior Court to restore the “zero bail” measure.

Currently, the courtroom follows new protocols outlined for releasing people based mostly on danger somewhat than cash bail underneath a ruling from a federal decide final yr.

Another effort to cut back the jail rely is from the Adult Probation Department, Pretrial Diversion and others to present housing for homeless folks launched from jail at some 50 resort rooms.

Mauroff mentioned Pretrial Diversion has been working across the clock to “expedite releases and protect public safety” in the course of the pandemic.

Chief Adult Probation Officer Karen Fletcher mentioned to additional cut back the rely, “we need to continue to examine racial disparities and better understand the potential policies and practices that hold a person in custody.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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Michael Barba – www.sfexaminer.com

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