A new California bill that would end late-night release of jail inmates – inspired by an inmate at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail who was found dead at a BART station in July – took a step toward becoming law as it was passed by a state Senate committee on Tuesday.
“The Getting Home Safe Act,” SB 42, would allow jail inmates to stay in jail for up to 16 additional hours so that they can be discharged during the day or to a drug and alcohol treatment center. It would also require the sheriff’s office operating the jail to provide transportation to a released inmate anywhere in the county or within a 100-mile radius, whichever is further.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, on Dec. 3, in response to the death of Jessica St. Louis, who was found dead at the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station on July 28.
St. Louis had been released at about 1:30 a.m. from the jail, which is about two miles from the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station, but the BART station doesn’t open until about 5 a.m. She was later determined to have died from a fentanyl and heroin overdose.
The state Senate’s Public Safety Committee passed Skinner’s bill 6-1 on Tuesday. St. Louis’s father, Thomas Turner, spoke prior to its passage.
“I feel that today the same way the coroner called me to tell me that my daughter was dead, I feel that the same phone call could have been given to her to tell me that she was alive, that she was released,” Turner said. “I only live 20 minutes from Santa Rita Jail, and unfortunately I would have broken every law probably in speeding to be there for my child.”
Usha Mutschler, a legislative representative of the California State Sheriff’s Association, was the sole voice against the measure at Tuesday’s hearing. She said the law would be “prohibitively expensive.”
“This unfunded measure will cripple the provision of other services and will turn peace officers and sheriff’s officers into drivers who will spend their days traversing the county at the whim of recently released inmates,” Mutschler said.
But members of the Public Safety Committee were unmoved by Mutschler’s concerns. Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Los Angeles, said he was “insulted” by the sheriff’s office response. He brought up the example of Mitrice Richardson, who was released from jail in Calabasas on Sept. 17, 2009, but went missing. She was missing for 11 months until her remains were found in 2010.
“What is the fiscal cost of a life?” Bradford said. “To say that this is about fiscal constraints on the sheriff’s department, I say, ‘Shame on the sheriff.’”
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, also was critical of the sheriff’s association’s position, and said she saw no reason for jail operators not to implement the bill’s reforms.
“This is the kind of attitude I think that makes people really question the good faith of our law enforcement sometimes,” Jackson said. “So I think it really behooves law enforcement to demonstrate that it also has a level of compassion and humanity that all human beings deserve.”
The bill will next be heard by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.