Guest Commentary: SF Public Defender Opposes Moving Incarcerated People to Santa Rita Jail

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By Mano Raju

I am extremely disturbed to learn of Sheriff Miyamoto’s plans to move up to 100 people currently held in the San Francisco County Jail to Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County.

Nearly 50 people have died in Santa Rita Jail in the last 5 years, and the jail has been deemed by East Bay Express as “The most dangerous place in Alameda County.” Two people have died in custody in Santa Rita since the beginning of 2020 and the causes of death for each have yet to be made public. The second person was a 25-year old with mental health issues who died on February 26.

Transferring people from San Francisco County to Alameda County is not just dangerous, it also undercuts the progress that San Francisco has made to ensure that incarcerated people are treated with basic human respect. Community advocates and families of incarcerated people have fought and won changes to our local laws that improve family connection and increase access to basic necessities in San Francisco County Jails. As of this year, phone calls made by people held in San Francisco County Jails will be made free, and food and basic hygiene products will no longer be marked up beyond cost.

The proposed move will also undermine San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance. Unlike San Francisco, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department actively collaborates with ICE’s deportation machine, which has led to the deportation of countless community members.  Moving non-citizen detainees to Alameda will not only jeopardize public safety, but will also lead to the separation of countless San Francisco immigrant families to deportation. We cannot let that happen.

Finally, sending incarcerated people nearly 40 miles away makes it more difficult for family members to visit, and also for attorneys to meet with clients and work on cases to move them forward. It is already difficult for folks who are held at San Bruno jail – this will make it much harder.

While I agree with Sheriff Miyamoto that we need to close County Jail 4 in the Hall of Justice immediately, I believe that we can do so safely and quickly without sending anyone out of county.

The numbers of people in jail continue to be at an all-time low. Today, we have 1,126 people in San Francisco jails, which means that more than 25% of our 1578 bed jail system are empty.  If County Jail 4 closed tomorrow, we would still have 1,180 beds in the system– more than enough beds to house all of the people who are in custody.

Moving people to Santa Rita does not utilize the already available resources we have here in San Francisco. I urge the Sheriff to rescind this proposal, and to work with my office, our law enforcement partners and community organizations to find a new way forward.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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