Two San Francisco jails lock down, citing assaults on workers; union calls for National Guard

Two San Francisco County jails were locked down over the weekend because of increasing assaults of deputies and other staff by inmates at the facilities, officials said.

Since late March, seven jail staffers have been injured in altercations with the incarcerated people they were hired to oversee, said Tara Moriarty, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office.

“Some of these assaults have resulted in serious injuries,” Moriarty said in a news release on Saturday. “The lockdown went into effect for the protection of all who work or reside in, or visit our jails.”

The lockdown, which is expected to end next week, means any visits and programs are canceled, keeping the more than 1,100 incarcerated people at the two Bay Area jails sequestered to their cells.

Affected jails include the county’s only women’s facility and its San Bruno location.

“We are actively investigating these incidents to ascertain their root causes and any potential correlation,” Moriarty said. “It is imperative that we identify and address the factors contributing to these assaults to prevent future occurrences.”

The San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Assn., the union that represents affected workers, urged local leaders to deploy the California National Guard to make up for understaffing at county jails and to bolster security.

“Recent incidents, including an alarming increase in prisoner fights, attacks on prisoners by other prisoners, and injuries to civilian employees and deputy sheriffs, highlight the pressing need for additional staffing and resources within the Sheriff’s Office,” union President Ken Lomba said in a letter to officials including Mayor London Breed and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

Assaults on deputies rose from 121 in 2022 to 216 in 2023, according to Lomba.

In the letter, Lomba points to a recent study by Washington State University that showed high rates of mental health problems and fatigue among San Francisco Sheriff’s Office workers, a problem the union said is exacerbated by overtime to combat understaffing.

Nationwide, a shortage of correction officers has escalated concerns about quality of life for both prisoners and workers as the incarcerated population at some facilities increases while staff decreases.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved more than $1 billion in raises and benefits for California prison guards in response to similar concerns.

In recent weeks, some San Francisco County jails have failed to meet staffing minimums, down as many as eight deputies for some shifts, according to the union.

Moriarty said the association’s request to call in the National Guard is “premature” and unnecessary but said the agency shares concerns about safety issues and will address them internally.

“We understand that the DSA also ties the recent incidents into low staffing levels and has called for immediate staffing,” she said in an email Sunday. “The National Guard is not the answer to the staffing shortage. The Sheriff continues to be committed to filling vacancies, recruiting, and hiring.”

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