Mitrice Richardson

Mitrice Richardson’s mother Latice Sutton holds photos of her daughter Mitrice during a 2010 press conference. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom this week vetoed a bill that would have banned the late-night release of county jail inmates without offering the option for them to stay in custody until morning.

Writers of the bill—called the “Getting Home Safe Bill”—invoked several cases of inmates at county jails across California not surviving the night after being released in the pre-dawn hours from remote county jails, including that of Mitrice Richardson, who went missing and was later found dead after her release in the very early morning hours from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station back in 2009. The bill itself was prompted by the death of another former inmate, Jessica St. Louis, who died in July 2018 after being released from a county jail in Alameda County.

The bill, SB 42, included language specifying that all prisoners should be released between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or given the option of “voluntarily staying in the jail up to 16 additional hours.” The bill would also have required sheriffs to provide anyone who declines the option of staying until morning “a safe place to wait to be picked up with adequate and sufficient ability to charge a personal cell phone and access to a free public telephone.”

Senate floor analysis of the bill also outlined how it would provide easier access to alcohol and drug rehabilitation for those released, including assistance with locating a program and, “If a person chooses to enter a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, the county jail assist, when feasible, in arranging transportation to the program.”

The state would have reimbursed local agencies and school districts for certain costs—according to senate analysis, approximately $150,000 annually.

It was that final point that caused Newsom to veto the bill, according to his veto message dated Oct. 12.

“Jails should not be releasing people into the streets during overnight hours,” Newsom acknowledged in his message. “This is simply an unsafe practice, resulting in many tragic and preventable outcomes over the years.”

However, the governor said, the potential law would have created “a significant state reimbursable mandate.”

“The bill’s intent can be accomplished through a more tailored approach that does not put the state treasury on the hook for local jail operations costs which are a local responsibility,” Newsom wrote.

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