City & County San Francisco, CA

Change in Jail Population 8%

Action Areas Courts Data Analysis Diversion Interagency Collaboration Racial Disparities

Last Updated


San Francisco partners joined the Safety and Justice Challenge with a specific goal in mind: safely reduce the jail population by 16% to allow County Jail #4, long known to be seismically unsafe, to close. Prior to joining the network, San Francisco had implemented years of reforms resulting in a relatively low jail population for a jurisdiction its size. Further reducing the jail population required thoughtful partnership among criminal justice stakeholders and community leaders to address serious challenges.

In San Francisco, over 75% of people in jail have serious mental illness and/or a history of substance use, and many people cycle in and out of custody. Others end up waiting in jail pretrial for long periods of time due to delays in case processing or while awaiting referral to treatment. In 2017, individuals regularly spent up to 120 additional days in jail waiting for a treatment bed at a residential behavioral health facility in the community — five times longer than individuals who are not incarcerated. A snapshot of the jail population from 2018 showed an average length of stay of 317 days, with most individuals held pretrial.

San Francisco’s jail population was also characterized by racial disparities, with the per capita incarceration rate of Black people 17 times that of white people. Young men of color also had significantly longer stays in jail compared to white people.


The City and County of San Francisco is advancing a number of strategies to rethink the use of jail and design a criminal justice system that is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



San Francisco seeks to focus all strategies on disparities reduction. Partners convene a racial equity workgroup, develop tools to monitor disparities, and adjust strategies as needed — including new efforts to reduce pretrial detention, expand diversion, and launch a fellowship to partner with people who have lived experience.



San Francisco established a jail population review team composed of system stakeholders and community partners who meet on a regular basis to discuss case types that drive the jail population and racial disparities and identify pathways for community-based support.



San Francisco partners have increased access to community-based supports through new positions and community partnerships and through new housing resources. Partners seek opportunities for diversion and focus on supporting people who cycle frequently in and out of jail.



Partners are working to reduce lengthy pretrial jail stays where people wait for the next step in the system. Efforts include training on case processing best practices, development of dashboards for Superior Court judges, and creation of case management tools and plans.



All efforts to make the justice system fairer and more equitable depend on data. San Francisco works to enhance transparency and data sharing across criminal justice agencies, developing public tools and reports to monitor progress across its efforts.


As a result of the strategies above, the City and County of San Francisco has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning the use of its jail.

Quartery ADP for San Francisco (2018-2024)

8.4% from baseline

More Results

San Francisco has been able to reduce its jail population since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge while keeping the community safe.

As a result of these reductions, San Francisco was able to close the seismically unfit County Jail #4. The Safety and Justice Challenge partnership laid the foundation for this success and provided a space for community advocates and system partners to engage with the closure process.

The Safety and Justice Challenge has shown San Francisco what we can accomplish through shared focus, good data, strong coordination, connection to community-based supports, and close partnership with people most affected by the criminal justice system.

Remaining Challenges

San Francisco partners know there is more work to do. Partners must work to sustain jail population reductions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. System partners and community members are also committed to ending persistent racial disparities in jail, which have remained constant despite overall reductions. Partners believe that change is possible in San Francisco. Guided by ongoing analysis of data and partnership with people who have lived experience, San Francisco will continue to refine the strategies above and develop new strategies to meet shared goals.

Lead Agency

San Francisco District Attorney’s Office

Contact Information

Josie Halpern Finnerty

Tara Anderson


San Francisco Superior Court, The Sheriff’s Office, The Department of Public Health, The Adult Probation Department, The Public Defender’s Office, San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project

Follow @SFDAOffice

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