San Francisco Public Defender Statement on  First Confirmed Case of Coronavirus in San Francisco County Jail

“While we knew it was nearly inevitable the virus would make its way into the jail, I am still deeply concerned to learn today that an incarcerated person in the San Francisco County Jail system tested positive for Coronavirus. This is the exact scenario my team has fought day in and day out to avoid by reducing the jail population. That this confirmed case comes after a substantial jail population reduction demonstrates why we have not been content to rest on the tremendous work done thus far, and why we continue to fight for people to be released. 

It is vital that the jail population reduction work not only continue but accelerate. Despite the reductions in the jail population, multiple strangers still share sinks, toilets, and bunk beds. These conditions prevent social distancing and proper hygiene and continue to be dangerous for everyone living or working inside the jails.

I recognize the work that has already been done across multiple city agencies in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our jail system, but any positive test poses a direct threat to the safety and security of the jail population and makes clear that more must be done. We need to continue taking preventative measures to prevent the spread of the virus, rather than waiting for the situation to get worse. This must not be a repeat of what happened at MSC South, San Francisco’s largest congregate homeless shelter.

For this reason, I am calling on the courts and the Sheriff to continue releasing as many individuals from the jail as possible and to ensure that all people who remain are provided personal protective equipment, adequate cleaning supplies, soap, hand sanitizer, and information that will help them remain healthy. Those housed in our jails deserve to be safe and treated with dignity both during their incarceration and upon release. This is also why my office has worked hard to ensure that every one of our clients released is met with support and the safest available place to go. 

I am also calling on the Human Services Agency and the Department of Public Health to immediately implement the Board of Supervisors Ordinance passed this Tuesday requiring that the City procure 8,250 additional private hotel rooms for people without homes. This ordinance includes the requirement that hotel rooms be provided to people coming out of our jail system who have no place to go, and we must make those rooms available as soon as possible.

Finally, I am calling on the San Francisco Police Department to continue reducing the number of people being arrested and booked into the jail. Today’s news, combined with the state-wide Emergency Bail Schedule implemented this week, means that we should completely cease arresting and booking people on misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Under the Emergency Bail Schedule, these offenses now require zero dollar bail amounts, meaning people booked on these charges will be immediately released from the jail. Therefore, police should move to a cite-and-release system for all of these offenses, since they will be released regardless. 

This is a do-or-die situation, requiring aggressive and urgent action across all our city departments. We cannot afford to be reckless with the lives of anyone in our community – especially those most at risk and least able to protect themselves. We must keep going. This virus does not discriminate.”

Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender


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