Supervisors hear Grand Jury report
of understaffing at San Francisco jails
By Pat Murphy
August 15, 2006
San Francisco jails are understaffed despite the Sheriff Department's
request for more staff and past recruitment efforts, a spokeswoman
for the Civil Grand Jury told City supervisors Monday.
Grand Jury member Joanne Mariner praised the "functional
working relationship" between prisoners and jail staff while
adding overcrowding and poor air quality need priority attention.
With 40% of the San Francisco jail population being repeat offenders,
heightened resources should allocated for post-release social
services, she told the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.
Mariner related those recommendations of the recently released
2005-2006 Civil Grand Jury reported entitled San
Francisco Jails: An Investigative Visit.
"Starting with staff, we really found that they were knowledgeable.
They certainly presented a good appearance," Mariner reported.
"There was an interesting functional working relationship
between the prisoners and the staff.
"It wasn't dysfunctional in any way, there seemed to be
mutual respect there, and we were really impressed with the staff
that we met."
Hiring freeze imposed in recent years led to current understaffing,
Non-competitive salaries compounded understaffing as sheriff
deputies left San Francisco for higher wages.
"Now that they've started to hire... and they are able to
raise the salaries... I think the City is really trying very hard
now to recruit additional sheriff deputes which is desperately
Mariner proposed a formalized recruitment program.
The Sheriff's Department has ongoing recruitment efforts throughout
the state and is receptive to a more structured recruitment model,
responded Undersheriff Jan Dempsey.
Recruitment is difficult for all California law enforcement agencies,
Dempsey told the committee, citing 20,000 policing job vacancies
Improving air circulation, particularly in Hall of Justice jails,
should receive top priority, the Grand Jury report recommended.
By law, City supervisors must hold a hearing on Grand Jury Reports
and give a written response within 90 days.
The City is reticent to allocate large funds for Hall of Justice
improvement due to planned building replacement at an estimated
cost of $800 million, pointed out Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
"I sit on the Capital Planning Committee of the City and
we are very reticent to pump millions of dollars into that building
knowing that we have to do that... in a decade when we have the
$800 million in a pile," Supervisor Aaron Peskin responded.
"Meanwhile, in addition to what you just mentioned, we just
laid out a big bunch of money for this current fiscal year to
redo the cooling system in the morgue in that building."
The City prioritizes final indignity, championed Peskin.
"We can't have the bodies rot, can we?" asked Peskin,
silencing the chamber.