What to do with them? As the state sets out to transfer responsibility for low-level inmates to the counties on October 1, the San Francisco supervisors on the Public Safety Committee discussed what the city could do to prepare.
The decision to transfer the inmates was made after the Supreme Court ordered the state to decrease its inmate population. In reaction, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, transferring responsibility for nonviolent felony offenders to the counties.
An estimated 421 of those 700 inmates destined for San Francisco will go directly to parole, and the city is projected to get $5.7 million in state funds to help ease the transition.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said the general public fears that these inmates will be a burden to the city. “The threat is that this is a significant imposition by the state,” he said. “The public believes this will add stress to municipal departments.”
These fears seem to be not far off. As Barbara Garcia, director of Community Behavioral Health Care for the SFDPH, the city’s health department struggles with both funding shortages and a growing population of inmates who arrive with substance abuse and severe mental health problems.
The health department works with 700 inmates who have substance abuse problems and another 140 with severe mental health problems. The total inmate population in San Francisco is 1,500.
Representatives from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices agreed that the city should focus on reducing the recidivism rate in order to handle the influx of inmates. It was acknowledged that this may take some effort — California’s recidivism rate is currently around 77 percent.
“I believe this is a good thing,” said Chief Adult Probation Officer Wendy Still, of the pressure to reform. The representatives from the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s office were both in agreement that just locking people up does nothing to reduce recidivism.
The city knows what these inmates really need, Still explained, whether it is housing, food or education. This personalized care will ultimately be to the community’s benefit.
And then she continued, echoing an age-old refrain: “But we need extra funding.”