Jessica St. Louis was released at 1:30am from Santa Rita jail without money or a phone. It’s two miles from the nearest public transit station, which doesn’t start operating until 5am anyway.
Four hours later, she was found dead.
She’s not alone. Hundreds of women are released late at night from prisons and jails daily. Part of this is because of how they’re funded.
The number of filled beds determines funding, so at midnight, incarcerated people are counted, the funding secured - and then they’re pushed out into the night, often without a safe way to contact anyone or get home safely.
Women report being forced to trade sex with strangers for a ride home, because they’re released with no money. Others report being preyed on by drug dealers outside of jails, because they know how traumatized and desperate for relief many women are upon being released.
“It’s hard to think of a more counterproductive, self-defeating measure if we want people to succeed when they get out of jail than releasing them in the middle of the night,” says David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s prison project.
Activists are pressuring lawmakers to change how jails are funded and ban late-night releases. Some progress is being made, but if we want Black women to be safe in and outside of jails, and safe after release, MUCH more work is needed.