Danger zone - Page 4

A proposal to privatize jail health services comes with a potentially steep cost to inmates and the public

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San Francisco's inmate population has shrunk in the wake of the crime lab scandal, and a city-owned facility in San Bruno has been temporarily shuttered. Sheriff Hennessey told the Guardian he believed medical care in the jails could be provided either by city workers or a private firm, but added that he's "quite happy" with the status quo. Noting that 25 of the 58 counties in California already use private firms, he added, "It's not an unusual or unique thing." Hennessey also said the decision was linked to a broader philosophical and political question, and that he doubted there was support on the board for the proposal to go forward.

Mitch Katz, director of the city's Department of Public Health, did not directly say whether he supported Newsom's proposal. "I think our Jail Health Services does a great job, but I do understand that the city is facing an extremely difficult budget year and that ultimately the budget must be balanced," Katz wrote in an e-mail.

Gabriel Haaland, who represents SEIU Local 1021 union members whose jobs would be affected by the proposal, voiced strong opposition at a June 17 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. "'We don't care about these people because they're poor and they're in jail.' That's the message" in the decision to contract out, Haaland charged. The item was continued and will be revisited as budget deliberations unfold.