Coalition that stopped new SF jail wins human rights award as jail system blasted by civil grand jury

For Immediate Release: July 19, 2016
Press contact:
Lizzie Buchen, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Coalition that stopped new SF jail wins human rights award as jail system blasted by civil grand jury

The No New SF Jail Coalition has been selected to receive the prestigious Hero Award by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and its Equity Advisory Committee. The coalition celebrated a monumental victory last December, when, after years of community organizing and advocacy, they persuaded the Board of Supervisors to reject plans for a new jail in San Francisco, pointing to the high pre-trial population, extreme levels of homelessness and mental illness among the incarcerated, and egregious racial disparities: While African Americans make up only 4 percent of the City, they constitute nearly half of the people imprisoned in its jails.

“This award is a testament to the years of powerful organizing, public education, and advocacy by dedicated community leaders fighting for alternatives to imprisonment and policing,” says Lisa Marie Alatorre, Human Rights Organizer for the SF Coalition on Homelessness, “including formerly incarcerated people, labor organizers, and advocates for housing, education, LGBT rights, and mental health treatment. Moving forward, we are committed to decarcerating and closing 850 Bryant and building humane and effective community-based solutions.”

The award comes on the heels of a scathing report by San Francisco’s Civil Grand Jury that details how the jail, particularly the jail at 850 Bryant St, fails people with mental illness. The report documents the high percentage of the jail population with serious mental illness, and reports that 31 percent of people imprisoned in San Francisco jail have been homeless within the past year.

The No New SF Jail Coalition condemns the grave human rights abuses of people with mental illness in the San Francisco jail. But they are also concerned with the proposal, noted in the report, to replace the jail with a locked facility known as a “Behavioral Health Justice Center”.

“Jails and policing will never provide solutions to poverty and homelessness nor provide care for people with mental health or substance use needs,” said Lily Fahsi-Haskell of Critical Resistance. “San Francisco must build neighborhood-based care facilities run by the community, not a locked mental health center with heavy law enforcement engagement.”

Members are also troubled by the Grand Jury’s emphasis on investing in jail staffing and procedures, rather than alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness.

“The political move to prioritize staffing, training and services in jail points to the larger shift to make jails seem like they are anything besides cages meant to control and often torture people,” said Coral Feigin, community organizer with the Western Regional Advocacy Project. “The idea that people deemed ‘mentally ill’ by the state can access appropriate and useful care while locked up is absolutely absurd. People who struggle with their mental health need health care in their communities, by their communities and with the ability to leave whenever they need to. If you want to do something helpful for people, release them from jail immediately and fund the deeply underfunded non-carceral community based solutions.”

Several members of the No New SF Jail Coalition are serving on a workgroup to guide the closure of the jail at 850 Bryant Street and are working towards building community-based solutions that do not rely on criminalization or locked facilities. The workgroup will then provide recommendations for consideration as policy objectives by the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors in October or November of 2016.

“The current system of criminalization and imprisonment oppresses and endangers our communities,” says Windy Click, an organizer with the California Coalition of Women Prisoners and a member of the city’s Jail Replacement Workgroup, who was incarcerated for 17 years. “Our coalition will continue pushing the city towards decarceration and liberation for all San Francisco residents.”

This year’s Hero Award by the San Francisco Human Rights Coalition honors “Communities Organizing for Justice”. Members of the No New SF Jail Coalition will accept the award at the Hero Awards ceremony on the evening of Thursday, July 28th, at5:30 pm at City Hall in San Francisco, in the Board of Supervisors Chambers.

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