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A nonprofit agency that’s been running the San Francisco court’s own recognizance project for nearly four decades is preparing to close its doors at the end of the month after losing its contract with the city to a competitor in a bidding war. The San Francisco Institute for Criminal Justice will shutter Oct. 31. The San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, which took over the institute’s responsibilities Oct. 1, has hired 15 of 18 people who worked for the institute. “It’s a very sad time for us, although I understand it economically,” said Marcy Lucas, executive director of the institute. “We were underbid.” But the president of the institute’s board said the savings are borne on the backs of the institute’s employees. “They are going to be taken on with no short- or long-term disability, no pension plan, and, for the most part, lower salaries,” said James Hargarten, a partner with Thelen Reid & Priest. “That really makes up the difference in our bids.” The institute paid varying salaries depending on experience, most “in the $40,000 range,” he said. The institute had already trimmed costs in its bid by eliminating health care benefits for dependents and leaving a job vacancy unfilled, Hargarten said. After some consideration the board decided not to reduce salaries, “and if the city decided that it would reject us because of that, so be it. And of course, that’s what happened.” “The city did take the lowest bid,” said Eileen Hirst, the sheriff’s chief of staff. “We were also looking for the best service for the buck. We believe we’re getting the same service, only more efficiently applied.” Some of the former institute employees’ pay is lower than before, said Will Leong, executive director of the pretrial diversion project, but he declined to say by how much. Leong said his employees receive some disability benefits, plus a tax shelter annuity. “We’re hoping to get a better pension program down the road.” The city will pay the pretrial diversion project $1.4 million to do what the two agencies did for about $1.55 million last year, Hirst said. And the sheriff’s department believes the city will save even more in the long run by combining the services more efficiently under one roof, she said. The institute and the pretrial diversion project, plus another agency called the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, ran various public programs to help reduce San Francisco’s jail population for several years without having to compete for the business. This was the first year the trio of nonprofit organizations had to go through a bidding process to win the work, worth about $1.9 million. The package includes several tasks under two umbrellas: determining whether arrestees are eligible for own recognizance release and administering court-ordered alternatives to incarceration before trial and after sentencing. As a result of the contracts awarded in September, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice will hold onto its traditional workload. The pretrial diversion project will keep its share of that work and — because it promised to save the city money and run the programs more efficiently — will add that of the institute. The institute bid $817,800 for its traditional responsibilities, but the pretrial diversion project bid $631,500 — $186,300 lower — for those services, Hirst said. “Basically we’re eliminating administrative overlap” and consolidating office space, Leong said. Leong said he aims for a “one-stop shopping approach” that will cover defendants from pretrial release until after conviction. By combining functions under one roof, he hopes that attorneys and judges see positive changes within months, such as more thorough pretrial release reports, fewer continuances and faster decision making, he said. Public Defender Jeff Adachi said it’s too early to say how the change will affect defendants, “but logic would dictate that it would make sense for a single agency to gather this information, from an efficiency standpoint.” The institute, which began as one of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s outreach programs in the 1960s and later became a separate organization, celebrated its 39th anniversary in August. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice will keep running the three programs traditionally under its purview and will also develop a pilot program to explore alternatives for pretrial nonviolent offenders, Hirst said. The city will pay the center $475,000, about the same amount the center received to run the three programs without the pilot last year, she said. The bidding process was the result of the city attorney’s office, beginning about a year and a half ago, systemically reviewing all contracts city departments were awarding to make sure they comply with the city’s contracting laws, said Alexis Truchan, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “The sheriff’s office was told they were either to competitively bid for the contract or qualify for sole-source labor.”

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