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New Jail Opponents Want Mental Health Facility

When it comes to building a new $380 million jail in San Francisco, the only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that the existing facilities at the Hall of Justice (known as County Jail No. 3 and No. 4) are in appalling condition — only No. 4 is currently functional, housing about 350 inmates. While Mayor Ed Lee and the majority of the Board of Supervisors support the project, opponents, including District Attorney George Gascón, believe a mental health justice center would be more appropriate given the city’s struggle in dealing with the mentally ill homeless who often bounce from jail to San Francisco General Hospital to the streets.

According to a July 2015 presentation by the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, the inmate population is on a downward trend and the jail is now about 50 percent empty with 1,314 people in custody (there were nearly 2,000 inmates in 2009). The San Francisco Department of Public Health says up to 40 percent of those in custody receive support from jail psychiatric services, and people in Behavior Health Court wait approximately 90 days for a mental health treatment bed. Every day, an average of 40 to 50 people approved for transfer are awaiting treatment.

While there are five new hospitals under construction, none are required to have psychiatric beds. Mental health advocates believe a community-based facility offering tiered treatment services co-located with courtrooms serving mentally ill defendants would meet San Francisco’s current needs far better than another jail. The 200,000 square foot, 95 feet tall facility will be built just east of the existing Hall of Justice, with construction scheduled to begin in 2018.

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