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Stop the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown men, women and youth in San Francisco’s jail and juvenile hall

October 28, 2015

by John Robinson

No matter who is elected sheriff, we urge Mayor Ed Lee to create and appoint the San Francisco Sentencing Reform and Corrections Task Force that would have in its membership members of the San Francisco Bar, elements of the federal, state and county criminal justice system, the district attorney, the public defender, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, members of the Police Commission, and others associated with the criminal justice system of the City and County of San Francisco.

John Robinson for Sheriff billboard 1015, webThere is a powerful, unprecedented cross section of the nation’s political leadership which has arrived at a consensus that the United States of America can and must make significant changes in the nation’s criminal justice system. The cross section of leadership that is now prepared to enact laws which will significantly reform this nation’s criminal justice system includes President Barack Obama, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-New York; Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada; Corey Booker, D-New Jersey; Mike Lee, R-Utah; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina. The bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate is known as the “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.”

In the U.S. House of Representatives a partial, bipartisan group of congresspersons support enactment of legislation to reform the nation’s criminal justice system. A specific bill has been proposed by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and Bobby Scott, D-Virginia. The bill they have introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives is known as “The Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act.”

There is a powerful, unprecedented cross section of the nation’s political leadership which has arrived at a consensus that the United States of America can and must make significant changes in the nation’s criminal justice system.

These legislative efforts in both houses of Congress have the support of such diverse groups as the Coalition for Public Safety, a bipartisan array of advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a significant number of very powerful conservative activists such as the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist.

This federal effort to reform the nation’s criminal justice system has taken into recognition of what Michelle Alexander has documented in her classic book, “The New Jim Crow,” about “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his October Atlantic Magazine article, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”:

  • The United States now accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants – and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants.
  • The job market in America regards Black men who have never been criminals as though they were.
  • To return to its 1972 incarceration rate, America would have to cut its prison population by some 80 percent.

These astonishing facts illuminate the ugly inequity that is imbedded in the nation’s laws, courts and criminal justice system that is quite visible for anyone to see – the alarmingly disproportionate percentage of African American and Hispanic men, women and youths who are incarcerated in the nation’s federal and state prisons, and in the nation’s county jails and juvenile detention centers.

Yes, even San Francisco’s courts, District Attorney’s Office, the current sheriff and the other candidate for sheriff for the City and County of San Francisco have been quiet, active participants in the nation’s disingenuous maintenance of this American-bred human rights violation.

The current campaign to elect a sheriff for the City and County of San Francisco can and must become San Francisco’s “eyes wide open” opportunity to review what this city and county can and ought to do to identify and promulgate a new path for how it will identify and adopt aspects of the national Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

I believe the City and County of San Francisco can initiate and begin the effort to deincarcerate San Francisco’s jails and juvenile justice center.

Even Gov. Brown has, within the last three weeks, taken some initial action on the problem of mass incarceration as it pertains to the state of California.

Even San Francisco’s courts, District Attorney’s Office, the current sheriff and the other candidate for sheriff for the City and County of San Francisco have been quiet, active participants in the nation’s disingenuous maintenance of this American-bred human rights violation.

When and what will this city do as it pertains to the San Francisco County Jail and its Juvenile Justice Center?

The work product of the proposed San Francisco Sentencing Reform and Corrections Task Force could lead to a quantifiable reduction in the percentage of African American and Hispanic men, women and youth who are incarcerated in San Francisco’s jail and juvenile justice center, and it could also provide a template for what other counties throughout the nation could seek to replicate.

We urge Mayor Ed Lee to take this rare example of bipartisan harmony on the national level as the impetus for the creation of a program that would explore options to incarceration. This effort is politically and socially responsible and can impact lives.

John Robinson, the candidate for San Francisco sheriff endorsed by the Bay View, is a 65-year resident of San Francisco who served for 20 years in the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, serving early on as administrative assistant for Sheriff Richard Hongisto and later as operational commander for the Emergency Services Unit. Since his retirement in 1994, he has owned and operated Inter-State Security, Inc., and currently employs 33 people. Visit his campaign office at 744 Innes Ave. in Hunters Point, call him at 415-317-0020, email info@robinsonforsheriff.com and learn more at www.RobinsonforSheriff.com and John Robinson for Sheriff 2015 on Facebook.

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