San Francisco pays top dollar to house County Jail inmates 

click to enlarge San Francisco says it pays about $135 a day to house an inmate; the state puts that closer to $173. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • San Francisco says it pays about $135 a day to house an inmate; the state puts that closer to $173.

Inmates in San Francisco County Jail have it better than most people incarcerated in California. Thanks to diversion programs that offer alternatives to incarceration, the jail is not overcrowded; there are also opportunities for education, drug treatment and other ways to break the cycle of crime and punishment.

That’s partially why San Francisco taxpayers pay more than most California counties to house inmates — the vast majority of whom are awaiting prosecution.

The bill is $63,000 annually per inmate, according to figures from the California Board of State and Community Corrections, or about $173 per day.

That’s half what Sacramento County pays for incarceration and on par with Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

But Chief Deputy Kathy Gorwood of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which runs the County Jail system, said the “average daily rate” is $135 per inmate. She said she could not explain why the state reported a higher rate. Additional costs, such as salaries and benefits for the deputies and other workers, could push that rate higher.

Those on pretrial detention awaiting court dates account for 82.5 percent of the jail population. That’s about 10 percent higher than the California average, according to records.

There are 2,360 beds in San Francisco’s jail system, and that includes a 372-bed facility used for training purposes only. Capacity is roughly 1,988, but, “That’s a very misleading number,” Gorwood said.

Most cells contain two bunks, but inmates with violent histories, mental issues or problems with gangs or other inmates may be assigned to a cell alone, which reduces capacity, Gorwood said.

Over the past 18 months, San Francisco’s jail population has averaged 1,524 inmates daily, according to Gorwood.

San Francisco still prefers alternatives to incarceration. As of early March, there were 888 people charged with crimes awaiting their court dates on supervised release, Gorwood said. Along with those who have gone through the system and received a sentence, there are 1,060 offenders on diversion programs.

“These are people who would otherwise be taking up a jail bed,” Gorwood said.

Inmates remain behind bars while awaiting a court date if the judge orders them held without bail or if the inmate cannot afford the bail set by a judge.

Most San Francisco inmates on pretrial detention are charged with felonies. When they are finally sentenced, many are credited with time served, according to a recent City Controller’s Office report.

“S.F. unquestionably has more ‘serious’ offenders in its jails than other counties,” said W. David Ball, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law and co-chairman of the American Bar Association’s Corrections Committee. More serious crimes, such as violent felonies, have higher bail amounts set by judges or inmates may be held without bail.

Other counties that imprison lower-level offenders might spend less per inmate to jail them, Ball suggested.

The Sheriff’s Department maintains a charter school in the jail system called Five Keys. About 30 percent of the jail population takes classes.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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