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No New Jails in San Francisco,
A Senior-Disability Perspective

Rebuilding San Francisco jail  will be bad for all SF residents, but the rebuild will be inappropriate and harmful for different populations in different ways. We concentrate on the effects on seniors and people with disabilities because we have worked with them a number of years.  We join with other groups with equally valid reasons for opposing the jail rebuild, such as young adults, parents with children, and LGBT residents.

Jail is a particular hardship for seniors and people with disabilities.  An estimated  23% of San Franciscans over the age of 65 have mobility problems or limitations in caring for themselves like bathing, dressing, getting out of bed. (SF-DPH, Options for Laguna Honda Hospital White Paper, 12-10-1998).  Those over 65 have a 40% chance of needing a nursing home. (, Jails make little or no accommodation for age, illness, or disability with respect to work assignments, safe and accessible facilities, need for help in daily self-care, or vulnerability for abuse or violence.

Jail is particularly inappropriate for seniors and people with disabilities.  They are not a danger to the community (LAO 2003), they have the lowest rates or recidivism and highest rates of parole success (Prof J Turley testimony to Calif Senate), and they are nearly twice as costly to house in jail. (US Dept of Justice data)

Seniors and People with Disabilities are likely to be an increasing proportion of the jail population.  People on low, fixed incomes are disproportionately made homeless by rent increases and evictions, making them vulnerable to arrest for violating laws against Sit/Lie, vehicular housing, and perhaps sleeping in parks at night.  Homeless seniors and people with mental health and substance abuse issues are also more likely to be profiled for arrest in newly-gentrified business areas.

Seniors and People with Disabilities need the services which would be sacrificed to finance the Jail Rebuild.  The projected cost, approaching $600 million including financing, could give $20 million in services each year, over the 30 years required to repay the jail debt.  The billion-dollar 2012 Prop C Housing Trust Fund could be expanded 60% to provide housing to very-low income groups like seniors and people with disabilities.  600 of the City's poorest families could live in subsidized apartments for 30 years.  Mental and medical health programs which had been cut for years on end could be restored and even expanded.   All of these programs are more effective outside of jail walls and can keep people outside of jail in the first place.

With San Francisco's rapidly aging population, senior concerns must be more important in this policy decision.  Currently, 14% of our population is 65 or older and 12% is age 55-64.  (2010 Census)   The SF Health Department estimated the City's over-65 population would jump from 130,000 in 2010 to 182,000 in 2020, a 40% increase. (SF-DPH, Options for Laguna Honda Hospital White Paper, 12-10-1998).

Finally, we join with other community members in asserting that because of 35% jail vacancy, sufficient space already exists even with closure of the seismically unsafe CJ3 and CJ4.  In fact, with proposed new sentencing, community alternatives, and pretrial diversion, the currently-unused CJ6 in San Bruno could remain closed.   Given the fact that a large proportion, perhaps half, are in jail because they cannot afford bail before trial, and that the proportion jailed African-Americans is ten times that of the general population, simple justice demands we find other alternatives than building a new jail to perpetuate old injustices.  San Francisco has made remarkable progress in reducing its jail population in recent years.  Now is the time to move forward, not back.


SF Gray Panthers,  2940 16th St, Rm 200-3,  San Francisco CA 94103
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