NO NEW SF JAIL COALITION & THE CLOSURE OF COUNTY JAIL 4 IN 850 BRYANT ST
In late September 2020, after years of work and support heightened over the past several months via No New SF Jail Coalition, San Francisco is no longer imprisoning individuals in County Jail 4, 850 Bryant Street.
No New SF Jail Coalition, founded in 2013, is an abolitionist coalition based in community accountability and transformative justice practices. They work towards dismantling the prison industrial complex and shifting power dynamics towards communities rather than the state. No New SF Jail Coalition worked tirelessly and persevered to pass legislation, introduced by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, to close County Jail 4 at 850 Bryant. The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance to close the jail by November 1, 2020, with a 10 to 1 vote. At the San Francisco Sentencing Commission’s Safety & Justice Challenge Subcommittee meeting, city leaders released the first draft of the subcommittee’s “Final Report” of the operational plan to close County Jail 4.
The preface for this story starts back several years ago in 2013 when there were plans to demolish 850 to build a replacement jail. No New SF Jail Coalition and the community pushed back and the Board of Supervisors moved against the potential new facility. But the coalition nor the community stopped there: they knew that this was only the beginning. The city had been aware of this building as a threat since 1996: it was earthquake unsafe, unsanitary, and overall hazardous. This urgency only increased under COVID-19. And, of course, the financial threat; according to the Coalition’s website: “closing 850 Bryant will save SF an estimated $25 million/year, which is better spent on community resources that actually help people: housing, healthcare, access to healthy food, and mental health/substance use treatment.” In addition to these significant dangers, there is the matter of human rights under failed carceral policies. Punishing those (particularly those unhoused, people of color, immigrants, and poor) because they cannot afford to pay bail is objectively inhumane.
The community worked together with clear demands for changes. These included: no new jails, no transfers to other counties, no increased electronic monitoring, a safe closing of 850, decriminalization of houselessness, a reduction in the number of people held pre-trial, investment in housing, mental health care, and voluntary substance-use treatment. They made demands via involvement in public hearing and committee meetings, lobbying of city supervisors, and vast social media activism via #ShutDown850. After months of organizing, this victory represents success to abolitionists everywhere. No New SF Jail Coalition released this statement on their website: “Our victory demonstrates that we can make real, material gains against the prison industrial complex through committed and sustained organizing.”
When speaking with Andrew Szeto of the Coalition, he shared with me how community involvement was impacted by the pandemic. The first of which being online organizing: “after shelter-in-place began, we had to figure out how to mobilize from home. Utilizing online mobilization tactics, such as Twitter storms and selfies with signage, was very activating. They also generated a lot of grassroots media and support which really aided in visualizing our cause. Also, when shelter-in-place happened, working groups within the coalition were helping individuals recently released with updated resources to reflect changes from the pandemic.”
But the Coalition isn’t done yet. No New SF Jail Coalition, through abolitionist theory, continues to challenge our city at its intersection of racism, xenophobia, and classism. This includes urging San Francisco to shift its focus from policing and detaining to increasing community-based support systems (public transit, housing, education, public health.) If you are interested in supporting the Coalition, their Abolition in Action webinar series (www.nonewsfjail.org/abolition-in-action-series) is a wonderful way to get involved and keep pressuring the city to keep this close moving forward as planned.
(image via @ShutDown850 on Twitter)