Facilitating Jail Releases in a Pandemic

Over the past two months, San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project (SF Pretrial) has been operating at full capacity and working with local justice partners to reduce our local jail population. At a time when detention settings pose grave risk to public health, effective community programming has been critical. Through collective efforts, San Francisco’s jail population has decreased by over 400 individuals since February 26. At the same time, SF Pretrial’s caseload volume has increased by 250, amounting to a total client population of 1184. Our most intensive level of supervision, Assertive Case Management (ACM), has grown to an all-time high of 579 clients. As we continue to provide supportive, individualized services, we prioritize safety and security for clients, staff, and the general public. Our response to COVID-19 has required basic operational adjustments to account for social distancing, personal protective equipment, and responsible hygiene practices, and expedient identification of community programs and resources for our most vulnerable clients. 

SF Pretrial Client Narrative: Barry
One client in particular has exemplified the unique challenges our justice system faces in addressing health and safety. After spending a month in custody Barry was released to SF Pretrial’s ACM program. When our staff picked him up from the jail, his significant health concerns and underlying conditions came into full focus. In addition to being an elderly gentleman, he divulged that he has back problems and a severe chronic illness. To make matters more complicated, a legal order barred him from returning to his place of residence, meaning he could not retrieve some of his most needed possessions. Barry was left without his wallet, ID, back brace, clothing, and crucial medication for his illness. Moreover, because Barry could not return to his home, he needed immediate housing resources. This client, like many others dealing with the trauma of incarceration, was not immediately amenable to our help. Being prohibited from returning to his residence was a shock and caused him, understandably, to be angry and uncooperative.

In response to these barriers, SF Pretrial staff coordinated with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office to build an action plan. First, the Public Defender’s Office sent a representative to the client’s apartment, who gained access, used FaceTime to navigate the space, and identified which items the client needed. While he waited at our office, SF Pretrial staff developed compassionate rapport, provided food and hygienic products, built a treatment plan, and began searching for available housing options. After hours of work, SF Pretrial identified available SRO housing to ensure this client did not face the prospect of being on the streets. Pretrial staff escorted him to the SRO, carried his luggage, and helped him get acclimated in his new space. In recent days, the judge’s original protective order has been lifted, and Barry can soon return to his home while he awaits his case resolution.

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