It’s a grim Mothers Day for over 100 forgotten people in lockdown at the San Francisco County Jail on Bryant Street.
As Public Defender Mano Raju cogently explains in the following op ed these people who have been jailed for months have not been convicted of any crime. Nonetheless they languish in jail under deplorable conditions awaiting their day in Court.
Excerpted from San Francisco Examiner 5.5.2021 – Mano Raju is SF Public Defender
Here in San Francisco, over 100 people are still languishing in jail awaiting trial past the last day in which they must be legally brought to trial — the majority have been waiting over a month, and some for many months past their deadlines. The unlawful pretrial incarceration of hundreds of people, who are presumed innocent, is not just a matter of moral, ethical, and human rights — San Francisco Courts are flagrantly violating the law.
I just finished reading a letter from one of our clients who has been locked up in our jails for months past the legal deadline for his trial to be conducted. He describes the current conditions like being “housed at a super max level 5 federal prison” and during the limited time they get out of their cells daily “for one hour, 8 people are forced to share 4 phones and 3 showers… shave, get hair cut, find a book” and make any personal or legal calls.
This man has lost family members while in jail, and he hasn’t been able to grieve with his family or stay connected to his children.
Sadly, he is not alone.
People are not only being illegally held in San Francisco jails, they are being held in solitary-like confinement as a result of the jail’s COVID-19 precautions – no family visits, no programming, 23-24 hours a day in their cell, and no yard time. These punitive conditions are psychologically and physically damaging. While the San Francisco Sheriff has said they are planning to resume visits and end lockdowns at the jails at some point, there is no official date set.
People who are presumed innocent and caged should not be sitting in jail for one day longer than the law allows. When that right is denied — as it was for Kalief Browder, a young Black man who was accused of stealing a backpack and locked up at Rikers Island without trial — the consequences can be fatal and tragic.
Public defenders are in court every day fighting for our clients’ right to a jury trial. But so far our Superior Court refuses to honor this right, generating a huge backlog of cases and incarcerating members of our community for months after the law says they can be held.
A backlog isn’t a reason to keep a human being in jail for a single day – let alone well over one hundred people in jail for months under lockdown conditions. Nor is COVID-19an excuse for the cruelty and bureaucratic inertia. We must do better.