Inmate proposal by SF Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi shot down seemingly for political reasons 

Aside from the occasional protest, meetings of the Board of Supervisors as of late have not been contentious affairs.

But Tuesday, when former Supervisor and current Sherriff Ross Mirkarimi stood before the full board, things were anything but friendly.

Mirkarimi -- who gained infamy in 2012 after almost losing his law enforcement job to a spousal abuse scandal -- was there to support legislation that until then had made few waves.

The tense hearing seemed to open up old wounds between the board and Mirkarmi, as nearly all the supervisors still in office who voted to have him removed also opposed his proposal Tuesday.

His proposal, which died on arrival, would have given more people the chance to use electronic ankle bracelets instead of remaining in jail before their trial.

For progressives like Supervisor David Campos, who backed the law -- along with Public Defender Jeff Adachi and probation chief Wendy Still -- the Home Detention and Electronic Monitoring Program would have alleviated an injustice built into the system: bail. Getting out of jail as you await trial is not an issue for the well-heeled, but poorer prisoners often have no option. That imbalance, they argue, is unfair.

"There are some people that sit in County Jail not because they are a public-safety threat, but because they don't have the money to pay bail," Campos said.

California's inmate realignment effort, which involved sending low-level offenders to county jails instead of prisons starting in 2011, included one particular tool for local governments that allowed counties the ability to expand in-home custody.

While the spirited exchange, which pitted Mirkarimi against half the board and some of The City's other law enforcement leaders, touched on the substance of the proposal, it also seemed to open up old political rifts.

"I just want to make sure it's the facts not the personalities that are driving policy decisions," Campos said after a series of exchanges between supervisors and Mirkarimi.

Board President David Chiu did ask why such a proposal was needed when the San Francisco jail population is dropping. And Supervisor Scott Wiener voiced concern about the churning of repeat offenders.

But, Mirkarimi said, the suggestion that the law would threaten public safety was patently false.

"Attempts to sabotage it on the day of the full vote by the mayor was based on fear-mongering at the expense of poor people and people of color, asserting that people on electronic monitoring are more of a safety risk than people who can afford to bail out," he said.

Campos didn't understand why District Attorney George Gascón would oppose the law when he supports decreasing incarceration. And Police Chief Greg Suhr said the law was needless since the jail population is in decline and courts already decide who gets electronic monitoring.

But Mirkarimi, who contends such monitoring would still be up to the courts, said that was the first time he'd heard of any concern on the issue from police.

"We and the board received a letter of 'no concern' about the legislation by the SFPD," Mirkarimi said.

After a vote to postpone the matter until September died with a 5-5 tie, Chiu said, "Why don't we go to something far less controversial."

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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