October 18, 2014
By Will Houston
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider on Tuesday suggestions from July's grand jury report regarding late night and early morning jail releases.
"Humboldt County Correctional Facility policy currently allows releases to wait until morning in a lobby, but many releases choose to leave the jail in the middle of the night," the report states. "The people of Humboldt County would be better served if Humboldt County Correctional Facility stopped releasing inmates between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m."
The report also recommends that the jail return any money confiscated at the time of booking back to the inmate at the time of release in the form of cash. A third recommendation currently before the board is for the jail and the Board of Supervisors to enter into an agreement with the Humboldt Transit Authority "to provide tickets for out of town inmates at the time of release to return them to the place they were arrested," according to a staff report.
In the draft response to be considered Tuesday by the supervisors, county Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said the recommendation would be implemented when the proper resources are available.
"The grand jury's recommendation to contract with Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA) requires additional financial resources and may be an option if the County's sales tax measure, Measure Z, passes in the November 4, 2014 election, and the community identifies this as a priority," Smith-Hanes' response states. "However, HTA is limited by its operational schedule, which is primarily daytime."
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the response is a "good first step" to addressing a "complicated and serious issue."
"We should not let the fact that it's complicated stop us from trying to address it," she said. "I know that Phillip Smith-Hanes made a small reference to Measure Z funding. There may be an ability to use some of that funding to address that, and I think there might be a bit of support from the community for that."
Concern for the jail releases came after three deaths associated with the jail releases last year, one being the New Year's Day murder of a Eureka priest by alleged culprit Gary Lee Bullock, a Redway man released from the jail hours before the incident occurred.
First District Supervisor and board Chairman Rex Bohn said Sheriff Mike Downey and the jail have made "great strides" in addressing the problem by letting inmates stay in the jail lobby if they wish and by implementing discharge screenings and surveys for each inmate.
"We release between 13,000 to 14,000 people out of the jail each year," Bohn said. "They have a right to be released after their time has been served."
As for the report's recommendation to not release inmates between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., Downey wrote in his response, "The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted or reasonable."
The recommendation to give cash back to released inmates is also "partially implemented," according to Downey's response.
"In the case of a short term detainee, the funds brought into the facility are counted in front of the detainee and then sealed in a plastic bag," the response states. "The sealed bag, containing the funds, is then placed in the detainees' property bag and returned to the subject upon release for their use."