San Francisco County Jail No. 4, long considered inhumane and hazardous, will cease operations on Sept. 5, sending the 77 remaining inmates to San Francisco’s two other jails.
The closure comes months ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline, mandated in a 10-1 May vote by the Board of Supervisors — which accelerated what appeared to be an inevitable closure in July, 2021. At the time of the May vote, the jail population was already being reduced as the pandemic escalated in San Francisco.
The will of city leaders to shutter the outdated facility as soon as possible was clear, overwhelming and, at times, personal during Tuesday’s announcement — especially for Mayor London Breed, who described harrowing personal experiences visiting friends and family members at the jail, which sits on the seventh floor of the 850 Bryant St. Hall of Justice.
“It is inhumane. It is nasty. It is filthy,” Breed said. “And I wouldn’t want to see my worst enemy in that place.”
Breed and other city leaders framed the closure as a statement on San Francisco’s commitment to criminal justice reform. “Our criminal justice system is broken,” Breed said, noting that in “many instances” people who have not committed crimes end up in the jail. She said that, despite the city’s Black population being less than 6 percent, 50 percent of the city’s incarcerated population is Black.
San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju said the efforts to reform the system go beyond shutting down County Jail No. 4. He said that 30 percent of the entire jail population suffers from mental illness, upwards of 40 percent are homeless, and 50 percent are Black. “We are jailing the most vulnerable among us,” he said.
He nevertheless said the closure of the jail “is a historic moment in San Francisco.”
The squalid conditions here were thrust into the spotlight in 2016, when sewage swamped the jail and other floors of the Hall of Justice, including the District Attorney’s office. Those issues continued, affecting mostly the jail’s inmates, and more than 150 of them sued in March 2019. The city and the inmates reached a purported $2.1 million settlement agreement in January of this year.
Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said that the jail next door to the Hall of Justice at 425 Seventh Street is at 55 percent capacity and the jail in San Bruno is at 58 percent capacity. If and when the pandemic subsides, Miyamoto said, that he and other city leaders will try to keep the populations low.
“What’s good and reassuring is that we were on the path to reform to begin with,” he said.
Indeed, San Francisco jails have functioned at relatively low capacity for years. The reductions have been attributed to pre-trial diversion programs, which assess whether a person accused of a crime needs to await trial in jail. In February, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said his prosecutors would not seek cash bail in court — another limiting factor in the number of people awaiting trial behind bars.
“We were able to reduce the jail population by approximately 40 percent by relying on incarceration as a last resort and working closely with our reentry partners to expedite safe release,” Boudin said in a statement today. “This significant reduction in the jail population—all while crime rates declined—demonstrates that mass incarceration does not make us safer.”