For Immediate Release: December 21, 2018
Contact: Katie Nelson, firstname.lastname@example.org | 571-643-88801
On December 14, 61-year-old Janice Dotson-Stephens died after spending five months in the custody of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, held on a $300 money bond for a July misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing. Had she been able to pay 10% — just $30 — to hire a bondsmen she would not have been in jail. Dotson-Stephens had serious mental health needs and was repeatedly arrested and detained in jail on minor charges when her health needs were unmet. Her family was not told she was in jail before her death. Cherise Fanno Burdeen, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute and Vincent Atchity, the Executive Director of The Equitas Project issued the following statement:
“Janice Dotson-Stephens’ death in Bexar County is yet another tragic reminder that jails are not settings for people with serious mental illness. Research shows people with mental illness spend 5 times as long in pretrial detention than people without. As many as one in five people in jail have a mental illness; the rate is even higher among women. Setting a money bond that results in pretrial detention — especially for people experiencing a mental health crisis and charged with a low level misdemeanor — has deadly outcomes across the country.
“While this death will be investigated under the Sandra Bland Act, that same act mandates that Texas jails divert people with mental illnesses to treatment, and that a lack of treatment beds cannot be an excuse for keeping people in jail. As a nation, we are in a public health crisis and using the criminal justice system to respond is not working. We must improve our access to quality preventative, supportive, and crisis health care, as well as supportive housing in the community. While Bexar County has taken great steps to improve pretrial procedures in the recent past, like introducing bond review hearings and establishing one of the nation’s leading innovative multi-partner early redirection sites, the continued use of money bond in Texas trapped Janice unconstitutionally in that jail. We can and should do better.”