All Eyes on San Francisco- No New Plantation (Jail) in San Francisco

All eyes are on San Francisco next Tuesday, December 15th as the Board of Supervisors prepare to take a historic vote on whether or not to approve the construction of a new $240 million jail. They will vote on accepting the $80 million loan from the Board of State Community Corrections and an additional $215 million in bonds to fund the jail project.

For more than three years, the No New SF Jail Coalition has been organizing, building power, and explaining time and time again that San Francisco does not need a new jail. The No New SF Jail Coalition includes many different community organizations such as Critical Resistance, San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, Taxpayers for Public Safety, Transgender Gendervariant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), and Communities United Against Violence (CUAV), and represents a wide range of community interests that have come together to build their collective strength to stop the SF jail.

This vote comes at a specific time in San Francisco’s history. As the boom in the tech industry has created immense amount wealth for some, the city is currently entrenched in an unprecedented housing crisis that is causing mass displacement of poor Brown and Black people, the extreme criminalization of homelessness and poverty, and incredible police violence including the recent murder of Mario Woods by SFPD (Rest in Power). We know that the push to build a new San Francisco jail has everything to do with this shifting political landscape, and that this fight is also a fight about who has the right to live in San Francisco. The city once vibrant in culture and opportunity for people who didn’t have opportunities elsewhere is now investing in jails for these same people.

The No New SF Jail Coalition’s position has been clear since day one – what San Francisco needs to keep its residents safe is housing, healthcare, mental health support, harm reductive substance use support, education, meaningful employment, community organizations, re-entry support and pre-trial diversion. NOT jails.

The proposed new SF jail will create 23 years of debt for San Francisco taxpayers. The project is incredibly expensive and will cost over $240 million for construction alone. This comes at a time where other life affirming services and organizations are being evicted, displaced or shutting their doors due to a lack of funding.

The current argument for building the new SF jail is that the Hall of (in)Justice at 850 Bryant Street is seismically unsafe and in incredible disrepair. We absolutely agree and advocate that the Hall of Justice be closed immediately and that the people currently imprisoned inside be released back to the community. In fact, the current SF jail population is only at 50% capacity, and of that population 80% are being held pre-trial, meaning that they have not been convicted of any crime but are simply too poor to afford their bail. In fact, 56% of the jail population is African American though only 5% of San Francisco’s population is African American. In addition, 28% of the jail population is homeless and many more become homeless upon release. These numbers are outrageous and yet this is the reality in San Francisco.

The No New SF Jail Coalition has been writing op-eds, lobbying, attending Board of Supervisors hearings, giving presentations to community groups, passing resolutions in unions, telling all of our friends and raising hell to show that the proposed new jail is a wasteful, harmful and violent use of taxpayers money.

On Wednesday, December 2nd the No New SF Jail Coalition mobilized close to a hundred people to San Francisco City Hall, where the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors was attempting to approve the funding for the proposed new jail. When the jail items were heard, organizers in the back of the hearing began chanting immediately and unveiled a banner that read “NO SF JAIL” as five organizers in the front of the hearing deployed a lock down. The room erupted with chanting and shouting declaring “No new SF jail,” “House Keys not Hand Cuffs” and that people were shutting the hearing down. 

Organizers took over the hearing for more than two hours, turning City Hall over to the power of the people and letting the Board of Supervisors know “this hearing cannot continue; you must stop this jail project now.” After the police issued a dispersal order, the No New SF Jail 5 held their ground until they were physically cut out of their lock-down with power saws and bolt cutters, forcibly removed and arrested due to the hearing recess requested by Supervisor Mark Farrell. The hearing continued, after the No New SF Jail 5 were arrested, with a stacked public comment and a strong opposition. The hearing ended with a decision to move the issue forward without positive recommendation and delay a vote on the jail funding until December 15 before the full Board, including newly elected Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

This is where you come in.

We need you to call the Board of Supervisors, tell your friends and come out strong on December 15th. We are seeing the Board of Supervisors waning on their support for the new jail. This means that our organizing is working! On Thursday, December 4th an “Alternatives to Incarceration” hearing gave city officials a chance to show other viable options instead of incarceration. However, the city officials who presented largely provided reasons to support building the jail and lacked substantive evidence of alternatives, despite the fact that many exist. At the hearing Supervisor Jane Kim said it best when she stated, “I just don’t want us to go down the path of picking what is simplest and easiest for us, what we have always done, which is just to rebuild a jail. I think we should absolutely question it and try to do better.” Even Supervisor London Breed, who has not yet taken a stance against the SF jail, stated, “Is this the only option? What I asked for when I supported moving forward with the grant [for the jail] was to give us a better alternative, not just to move this particular plan forward…this hearing has done nothing to really make me feel overwhelmingly compelled to support a project that doesn’t do enough.”

Our organizing is shifting power and we can’t slow down now. We know that what happens on December 15th in San Francisco does not happen in a vacuum. What happens San Francisco will affect what happens in Oakland, and what happens in Los Angeles, and what happens in Fresno, and what happens in Ferguson, and what happens in Baltimore, and what happens in Chicago. We have a chance to change the tide of this country and say NO to mass incarceration, say NO to police terror, say NO to prison and jail expansion and YES to alternatives that keep us all safe and support our livelihood and well-being.  

The time is now to change this conversation locally, statewide and nationally.  Jails are violent, unsafe and exasperate the problems they are set up to purportedly fix.  This is the time to invest in the future of San Francisco, to stand together and demand that there be NO NEW SF JAIL.  

Another San Francisco is possible.

To learn more go to www.nonewsfjail.wordpress.com

Coral Feigin is an organizer with Critical Resistance Oakland and the Western Regional Advocacy Project. She can be reached at coral@wraphome.org.