City and County of San Francisco, California

Summary

San Francisco is the sole city and county dual jurisdiction in the state of California. By participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge, San Francisco has made exemplary advancements in custodial programs and community-based alternatives and has significantly lowered its incarceration rate. The jurisdiction has become a model for other jurisdictions to engage in similar strategies to deflect and divert individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system.

To build on past efforts, San Francisco was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2018 to implement strategies that address the main drivers of the local jail population, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

To continue safely reducing the jail population, the county plans to implement five key strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders while prioritizing public safety and victim protection. These strategies include pre-arrest and pretrial diversion strategies, criminal sentencing and correctional strategies that emphasize rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, improvements to case processing efficiency, enhanced services for people with mental illness or substance abuse issues involved with the justice system, and rooting out disparity and racial bias.

  • Despite a significant drop in San Francisco’s incarceration rate and advancements in the county’s custodial programs and community-based alternatives, there is still an over-reliance on incarceration of young adults of color and those with behavioral health needs.
  • The Department of Public Health estimates that 40% of inmates in San Francisco jails seek mental health services from Jail Psychiatric Services, making the jail San Francisco’s largest behavioral health facility.
  • Length of stay is a key driver of the jail population. In 2017, individuals regularly spent up to 120 additional days in jail waiting for a treatment bed at residential behavioral health facility in the community, which is five times longer than individuals who are not incarcerated.
  • Individuals with violent felony charges also have significant lengths of stay of between 139 and 350 days. Further analysis is necessary to pinpoint the exact case processing challenges driving this, but stakeholders acknowledge a continuance problem.
  • The per capita incarceration rate of African Americans is 17 times that of Caucasians. Further, those who remain in custody for the greatest length of stay are young men of color.
  • To continue reducing the jail population safely, the jurisdiction plans to implement five key strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders.
  • Strategies include pre-arrest and pretrial diversion strategies, criminal sentencing and correctional strategies that emphasize rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, improvements to case processing efficiency, enhanced services for people with mental illness or substance abuse issues involved with the justice system, and root our disparity and racial bias.
  • Over the next two years, San Francisco will develop evidence-based criminal sentencing and correctional strategies that emphasize rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, emphasize fairness, root out disparity and racial bias, prioritize public safety and victim protection, and efficiently use criminal justice resources.

Supported with $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, San Francisco will implement forward-looking, smart solutions, to further reduce the local jail population by 16% over the next two years.

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