Buffin Judgment Helps Reduce SF County Jail Populations – Breaking Down COVID-19 in SF County Jails

By Anna Judson and Ariella Seidman-Parra 

SAN FRANCISCO – Since the San Francisco County jail began testing arrestees at Jail #1, also known as the Intake & Release Center, 23 people have tested positive for the virus. All of them have been asymptomatic.

When people are arrested and booked, they are offered a rapid COVID-19 test, though as reported by the Sheriff’s Office Director of Communications, Nancy Crowley, roughly only 80% of individuals being booked accept the test.

Those who do accept the test and test positive, are placed in isolation in Jail #2. There have only been 7 people who have gone into isolation for recovery thus far. These individuals remain there for twenty-one days. After this time has passed, they are tested twice, and those results must both be negative, before the individual is eligible to be housed in the general population. 

The remaining 20% who turn down the test, are treated similar to those who had tested positive. They are placed in quarantine in Jail #2 with others from the same intake date. Additionally, they stay in that housing pod for twenty-one days. Of the twenty-three people who have tested positive, one of them had initially refused the test at booking. 

After the allotted time in quarantine has passed, if the individual does not show symptoms, they are integrated into general housing and potentially transported to another facility, either Jail #4 or #5. If someone were to show symptoms in this phase of quarantine, they would be tested and treated accordingly. 

Since the pandemic began, a total of 7 San Francisco Sheriff employees have tested positive for the virus. The majority of these cases were from March this year, but as of July 16, a Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Hall of Justice Courts as a bailiff tested positive. Although this employee has been following safety protocols such as wearing a face mask, practicing social distancing, and washing hands frequently, the Sheriff’s Office has announced they will begin a contact tracing investigation, in an attempt to determine who the employee may have interacted with before testing positive. The bailiff’s proximity in the courtroom with attorneys, judges, defendants, and members of the public has demanded that contact tracing be used to identify and notify all individuals who may have been exposed.

Recently, the San Francisco County jail has been trying to prevent detainment for misdemeanor charges or less serious felonies, provided the defendant does not have a previous record. In an effort to reduce the jail population and maintain distance between incarcerated individuals, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office has begun using the Buffin judgement. This new procedure has been in effect since February 20, 2020, after a federal court judge ruled that the court’s bail schedule was unconstitutional. This judgement was passed amidst major concerns about prolonged waiting periods for arraignment, and has expedited the pre-arraignment process and has allowed for a wider array of bail options. The Buffin judgement continues to serve as an accelerated vetting and review program to help keep individuals and communities safe. 

At the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office, they remain committed to providing rigorous testing. However, as of July 17, Mayor London Breed has indefinitely halted San Francisco’s plan to reopen. The plans to halt reopening come after the cases increase on the local, state, and national level. As Mayor Breed has repeatedly emphasized, the pandemic is not over. The pandemic requires sustained efforts to monitor and prevent the spread of the virus, especially within SF jails where many of those who have tested positive have been asymptomatic.

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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