Letter from Public Defender Jeff Adachi to Mayor London Breed

Public Defender Jeff Adachi sent the following letter to London Breed today to oppose an idea being floated to transfer inmates from San Francisco to Alameda County, should SF Jail #4 close permanently. To quote Jeff, “San Francisco needs to be at the forefront of the movement to end mass incarceration. We need to stop dealing with poverty and public health problems by throwing people in jail. Neither building a new jail nor moving people to a substandard jail in another county will solve these problems. San Francisco needs to lead the way on this issue.”

Here is the letter:

November 2, 2018

Dear Mayor Breed,

It has come to my attention that you may be considering approving the transfer of some inmates from the SF County Jail, many of whom are our clients, to Santa Rita or Glen E. Dyer Jails in Alameda County. Although I am keenly aware of the poor condition of SF County Jail #4 and the need to close it as soon as possible, I urge you to reject the proposal to transfer people to Alameda County.

My staff and I visit clients at County Jail #4 on a daily basis, and can see for ourselves how inadequate and potentially dangerous that facility is. But, the option of transferring our clients to Alameda County is much worse. There are many reasons for this:

Legal representation of our clients. The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office prides itself in having the highest standards of criminal defense, not just among public defenders, but, among all criminal defense attorneys. But, we cannot provide excellent service to our clients without access to them. Our staff of 103 attorneys need to meet withour in-custody clients regularly to develop their defense. At present, we visit our clients around the corner at 7th and Bryant, and also must travel to the San Bruno Jail. Having to travel to Dublin and Oakland as well would mean much more travel time for attorneys and travel expense for the City, and because our attorneys already have large caseloads, compromised defense for our clients. I was working as a Deputy Public Defender in the early 1990’s when San Francisco, for a brief time, housed clients in Alameda. I can personally attest that it was disastrous decision which was reversed after just a few weeks, since it was impossible for clients to be properly represented by our attorneys.

Access to families and loved ones. There is an overwhelming consensus that having strong community, family and support systems correlates greatly to lower recidivism and better outcomes in general. All of our clients are indigent, and traveling to Dublin will be a hardship for their families and communities. This will result in less contact with support systems, faith communities, mentors, etc. and ultimately poorer outcomes for our clients. Children will have less contact with their incarcerated parents causing trauma for them. In fact, the lack of family contact and community support will inevitably convince more clients to plead guilty in cases they could have won, just to get back to their loved ones.

Risk of illegal entanglement with Immigration & Customs Enforcement. San Francisco is a Sanctuary City and all government departments, including our Sheriff’s Department, are committed to this policy. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Alameda County Sheriff. Non-citizens there are routinely apprehended by ICE upon their release from Santa Rita, and then subjected to indefinite detention and deportation—even if the non-citizen is ultimately acquitted of the charges against them or if those charges are dropped. San Francisco should not contract with any facility, such as Santa Rita, that has such an abysmal track record of colluding with ICE and its deportation machine.

The Alameda County jails are notoriously plagued by abuses and substandard conditions. Besides the additional cost of sending people to Alameda, San Francisco will expose itself to lawsuits from inmates and civil rights advocates. Just within the past year and a half:

* Four Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies were charged with felony assault under the color of authority for abusing inmates. Two of them were also charged with witness intimidation and conspiracy to obstruct justice. (East Bay Times, 9/5/17)

* Another Sheriff’s Deputy was charged with assault by a public officer and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury for staging an attack on an inmate by other inmates. (East Bay Times, 9/7/18)

* 386 inmates were taken away by ICE after the Alameda County Sheriff shared their release information with that agency. (KCBS Radio, 10/2/18)

* The Alameda District Attorney filed charges against a Sheriff’s office sergeant for illegally recording conversations between minors and their attorneys. (Oaklandnorth.net, 10/5/18)

* A woman in labor was locked in solitary confinement and gave birth alone in a cold, dirty concrete cell after guards ignored her cries for help. She and several other women have files suit against the Santa Rita jail for abuses while they were pregnant. (SF Chronicle, 8/20/18)

San Francisco does not need to send County inmates to Alameda. There are better solutions:

Release people who are eligible for bail. The California Court of appeals in the Humphrey decision said that no one should be held in jail pretrial just because they cannot afford bail. Yet over 80% of the San Francisco jail population is being held pre-trial. Hundreds of these people are bail-eligible yet are being held in custody, because San Francisco has among the highest bails in the country. The Humphrey decision also held that the court should consider the least restrictive release conditions necessary to ensure public safety and a return to court. A wide array of release conditions are available here in San Francisco. The court or the sheriff should make use of these options to release anyone to Pretrial Services who is bail-eligible.

Prioritize Public Health treatment beds over jail beds. According to DPH’s presentation to the Work Group to Re-envision the Jail, an average of close to 200 people on any given day are sitting in SF County Jails waiting for transfer to behavioral health facilities. According to the DA’s presentation at the same meeting, individuals in Behavioral Health Court wait in jail an average of 120 days waiting for a bed in the community. The County must commit resources to getting people out of jail who need treatment. Both DPH facilities and community providers should be utilized. Jail is the worst possible place for people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Provide supportive housing rather than cycling the unhoused in and out of jail. By all accounts, more than a third of the people in County jail at any time are homeless at the time of arrest. Many more are made homeless by their incarceration. The jail is an inappropriate, harmful and expensive solution to San Francisco’s homelessness crisis. People living on our streets need appropriate supportive housing, not jail beds.

San Francisco needs to be at the forefront of the movement to end mass incarceration. We need to stop dealing with poverty and public health problems by throwing people in jail. Neither building a new jail nor moving people to a substandard jail in another county will solve these problems. San Francisco needs to lead the way on this issue.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to continuing to work with you on criminal justice reform.

Sincerely,

Jeff Adachi

San Francisco Public Defender