Dan mentioned today that San Francisco is dealing with its housing problem all wrong by restricting construction, while Seattle is doing it right because we're growing our housing supply. While we're comparing ourselves to SF, it's worth noting one issue they're getting right: prisons. The Bay Area News recently reported that SF plans to build a new mental health facility instead of a jail, after a two year activist campaign against the project:
The Board of Supervisors voted on Dec. 15 to turn down state funding for a new $240 million jail to replace decrepit, seismically unsafe facilities at the Hall of Justice.
The vote followed heavy campaigning by groups arguing that city resources should instead be put into diversion and pre-trial release programs, mental health treatment and programs to help the homeless. The No New SF Jail Coalition argued that incarceration disproportionately harmed the poor, minorities and the mentally ill.
However, the sheriff's department and Mayor Ed Lee argued that the replacement jail was urgently needed to provide a safe, humane holding facility with adequate services for inmates.
The parallels with Seattle are pretty straightforward. King County Executive Dow Constantine and the county council want to build a $200 million replacement for the youth detention center in the Central District, including a $40 million jail component. They say this is necessary because the current building is old and dilapidated, and in 2012 a majority of county voters—55.42 percent—approved a new tax levy to fund the project. Construction is supposed to begin later this year.
But here, too, a coalition called the No New Youth Jail campaign has been pushing back against the new jail project, citing figures that show the disproportion of black kids compared to white kids locked up at the jail has increased in recent years, not gone down. And they're gaining ground: the county announced last year it would decrease the number of detention beds by one fourth; City Council Member Mike O'Brien told me on November 19, "I don't support the youth jail being built"; and activists even got $600,000 in funding from the city to develop alternatives to incarceration.
Bottom line: Hooray for building more housing to bring down housing prices, boo for building new jails at a time when the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other major country in the world.
This post has been updated.