A Texas woman died in police custody after being held since July on just a $300 bond. She could have made bail with just $30.
61-year-old Janice Dotson-Stephens died of natural causes at an infirmary at the Bexar County Detention Center, according to Bexar County Sheriff’s Office officials. Dotson-Stephens was an inmate of the Sheriff’s Office located in its county seat of San Antonio, Texas.
She was arrested on July 17th for one misdemeanor count of criminal trespassing on private property. According to Bexar County Clerk records, it was Dotson-Stephens’ first arrest in the San Antonio area.
Officials have not released the reasoning behind the extensive stay for Dotson-Stephens while under such a low bond. Typically, a bond can also be reduced to 10 percent of the original amount and be paid to release someone in custody, which means all Dotson-Stephens needed was $30 to get bailed out of jail. It is believed that Dotson-Stephens couldn’t afford her bail and refused to speak to due to potentially having mental health problems.
Court documents also state that Dotson-Stephens refused to be interviewed the day of her arrest and for four days in late July. She also refused an interview again on August 4th. Four days later on August 8th, a court-appointed attorney was assigned to her.
Then, on August 17th, Dotson-Stephens turned down a court appearance. Ten days later, on August 27th, she was ordered by a judge to undergo a psychological evaluation, the results of which were not available at press time.
Leticia Dotson, who is Dotson-Stephens’ daughter-in-law, said Bexar County officials never contacted the woman’s family members, who thought she had been transferred to a state hospital. Dotson added that her mother-in-law had a history of mental health problems. NPR estimates roughly 500,000 Americans with serious mental illnesses are currently incarcerated.
“She had people who loved her and family who would have easily paid the $30 to get her out of jail if that’s what we had to do to take the next step,” Leticia Dotson told local media.
According to the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, keeping inmates incarcerated because they can’t afford to pay bail costs taxpayers more than $15 billion annually.
The Hamilton Project also states that the median income for inmates charged with misdemeanor crimes is only $16,000 — well below poverty level. Also, the research states that the average cost of detainment per prisoner is over $28,000, and close to 413,000 inmates are currently under custody awaiting trial or are serving time for crimes committed. Most of those 413,000 inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, like missing court dates for traffic violations, and minor drug charges.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) previously introduced a bill that would end cash bail at federal prisons. Earlier this year, California became the first state in the country to end cash bail for inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
Brandon Howard is a Grit Post contributor, auto worker, and former public radio reporter based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @mrpowerhoward.