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Opinion

The dangers of understaffed jails 

Staffing issues have been unaddressed for years

Staffing in the San Francisco jails has become dangerously unsafe with inmates attacking inmates, nurses, sheriff deputies, and civilian employees. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office and City and County of San Francisco have understaffed the jails to a dangerously low level — they have not prioritized funding to hire deputies, and they have not even prioritized retention of current deputies. 

I sent an email to Sheriff Miyamoto to advocate for hiring and to warn Sheriff’s Office management about the staffing problems that have existed for over a decade — two and a half years of which Miyamoto was sheriff. The increased burden of work due to intentional lack of hiring has turned into “sweatshop labor.” The San Francisco District Sheriff’s Association has filed a civil grand jury complaint demanding the Sheriff’s Office and the City and County of San Francisco be investigated.

Since 2014 the San Francisco civil grand jury has issued three separate reports warning about the effects of below minimum staffing levels and to expedite hiring instead of forced overtime. There was even a warning of a possible violation of Title 15 in the future if nothing changes. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office has failed to hire the proper number of deputies to create a safe working environment for both the deputies and inmates. The minimum staffing levels have gotten worse — and bottom line — the deputies are exhausted.  

In the past reports, the Grand Jury found that because of the dwindling number of total deputies employed by the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), the excessive overtime, and shortage of bodies did not allow for the important inmate programs in existence let alone increase the inmate programs that were recommended. Furthermore, the recommended training for deputies could not take place or was inadequate to deal with the mental health and substance abuse as well as many other issues the housed population experiences.

Ultimately, this grand jury recommended on three separate occasions in 2014, 2016, and 2017 to “expedite hiring to reduce overtime.” The grand jury’s recommendations have never been followed, and the situation has become untenable as the number of deputies is lower now than it was when this grand jury made these strong recommendations.

CCSF JAILS OPERATE BELOW MINIMUM STAFFING 

On June 9, 2022, Sheriff Miyamoto issued a memo to all city and county of San Francisco jail staff identifying his intention of operating below minimum staffing for a period of the next 8-9 months! The city and county of San Francisco has clearly recognized the futility of giving the appearance of reaching minimum staffing and has now admitted that it cannot exercise its duty to do so. 

The city and county of San Francisco is in fierce competition with its neighboring Alameda and San Mateo counties for jail staff. Alameda has been under a consent decree to hire more jail staff. It would be a shame for the city and county of San Francisco to be under similar governmental oversight. The city and county of San Francisco can expedite the hiring of staff but has not made it a priority, which is at the expense of the overworked and exhausted jails’ staff.

The civil grand jury complaint against the Sheriff’s Office and the city and county of San Francisco was filed on June 20, 2022. This grand jury should demand answers from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office as to why it has failed to comply with the grand jury’s three separate recommendations since 2014.

Ken Lomba is the president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (sanfranciscodsa.com).

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