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The Safe Release Bill Fails

Jul 5th, 2011 | Category: Uncategorized

A person released from a county jail in the dead of night must find their own way home. Some of them find a ride from a kind stranger, and others walk for miles or manage to borrow a cell phone to call for a ride from friends or family. Most are traumatized, and some are endangered. A few of them end up dead.

Senate Bill 1014 was a bill to stop jails from dumping people into the darkness, and the bill was created by you, the people of Texas, who called and wrote about this inhumane and dangerous practice. The first calls came from Cameron County where two women were hit by cars and killed after being released in a jail far from town at night. We compiled complaints from eight more counties, but Harris County nighttime releases, are the most notorious. They release hundreds of people each night between 1 am and 5:30 am, into a street filled with pimps, traffickers and others who can prey on people coming out.

Senator Whitmire gave high praise to SB 1014 during two Senate hearings. His staff worked hard on it, and after much testimony and many changes, giving sheriffs flexibility and protecting the rights of the mentally ill inmates, the bill passed the Senate. But it was stopped dead by the House Calendars Committee; since they didn’t set it up for a vote, it died there.

Why? Well, the Governor’s staff supposedly put out the word they didn’t want any bill that infringed on “local control,” and evidently some sheriffs also said they didn’t like anybody telling them what to do. Of course, nobody would have to tell them what to do if they were doing the right thing in the first place!

The silver lining to the death of the Safe Release Bill? It will succeed next time. The process this bill went through resulted in a very well written bill that will have a much better chance starting out next session, because it won’t have to be created from scratch. Also, this fight drew powerful allies like the Catholic Conference of Texas, the Christian Life Commission, Disability Rights Texas and many individuals who wrote letters and testified. These folks will come back and be joined by more.


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