Sandra Bland Act Sets Stage for Major Criminal Justice Reform in Texas

Sandra Bland Act
“Sandra Bland's traffic violation led to her death. This is not good for America no matter who you are.” - Rep. Garnet Coleman (D - Houston)

House Bill 2702, ‘The Sandra Bland Act,’ by Rep. Coleman would go a long way toward ensuring that what happened to Sandra Bland never happens again.

The events that led to Sandra Bland’s death in a Waller County jail highlighted many of the alarming deficiencies in the Texas criminal justice system that unjustly affect thousands of Texans each year: pretext traffic stops based on racial profiling, medical negligence in jails,  unlawful jailing without bond, and unreliable discrimination reporting procedures.

Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change - a most minor traffic offense that anyone would (and should) expect to end in a ticket if anything. However, in an all too common chain of events, this minor infraction led to her death in her jail cell three days after the incident - an unacceptable injustice in need of immediate attention.

HB 2702 would restructure policing policies to focus on citizen rights and protections, relieving some of these injustices. The Sandra Bland Act would improve county law enforcement procedures and increase jail safety and accountability, protecting Texans against discriminatory arrests and jailing processes that can, as we’ve seen, lead to tragic ends.

HB 2702 would transform the criminal justice system in Texas, addressing the often racially discriminatory processes of traffic stops, arrests, and jailing:

  • Racial Profiling and Pretext Stops: This bill would outlaw pretext stops, minor traffic stops used as pretext to search the vehicle, and consent searches, both of which are disproportionately exercised against African American and Latino motorists. The bill would require internal reviews of racial profiling and increase punishment for officers found guilty of racial profiling.

  • Mental Health: HB 2702 expands funding for diversion pre-jailing programs for individuals with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities, and substance abuse issues. Inmates who report mental health issues as in the instance of Sandra Bland, would require officers to make an effort to divert individuals with mental health illnesses to treatment instead of jailing them. If incarcerated, officers would be required to continue administering any medications to the individual they would be taking if they were not in jail and a medical professional must be present at all times - a common sense, not to mention humane, policy.

  • Bail: Individuals without a history of violent crimes would be provided a pre-trial personal bond unless a magistrate has good reason not to provide the personal bond option. The deadline for filing these reasons would also be shortened ensuring individuals are not being held unreasonably. Texas jails have been under scrutiny for unjust bail practices for some time.

  • Training: The act would increase peace officer training for handling people with mental illness enhancing safety of the communities. Their training would focus on de-escalation methods, the safest policing method to prevent unnecessary tragic violence.

  • Accountability: Defendants in misdemeanors would be assured a copy of charges against them. This standardizes the procedure for a member of the public to make a complaint against an officer as well as the review process of that complaint enhancing transparency and trust in the system.

This comprehensive criminal justice reform bill addresses our state’s urgent need to address the brutality against men and women of color in our communities.