Senate Leader Atkins’ Bill to Increase Transparency, Accountability for In-Custody Deaths Passes Legislature
SACRAMENTO, CA - Senate Bill 519 by Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins passed the Senate floor today on a 31-4 vote. The bill would increase transparency and accountability for local detention facilities as it relates to in-custody deaths. SB 519 will help improve conditions in county jails statewide and increase transparency for the families of victims.
“Local detention centers have unfortunately been slow to address internal issues and in many cases unresponsive, as it relates to the alarming increase in deaths of persons in-custody. This is a growing problem not only here in San Diego County, but at other detention facilities around the state,” Pro Tem Atkins said. “It’s critical for our communities and for families to have more transparency and accountability. SB 519 would give families the transparency they deserve and provide enough oversight so that the county can work to reduce further deaths.”
An alarming increase in death incidents has occurred in San Diego County in the last three years, with 18 in custody deaths in 2021 and 20 deaths in 2022. This year already 11 inmates have died in-custody in San Diego County facilities. San Diego County is not alone in this alarming statistic. In 2022, 18 people died in-custody in Riverside County jails. As of August 2023, 23 people have died in Los Angeles County jails. In 2021 and 2022, there were 19 in-custody deaths in Sacramento County jails.
SB 519 includes multiple actions intended to help increase oversight, transparency, and accountability regarding in-custody deaths:
- The bill would make investigatory reports of an in-custody death conducted by a sheriff’s department public in an effort to reduce future deaths.
- It would also increase oversight by creating the position of Director of In-Custody Death Review within the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). The Director, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate to a six-year term, would review investigations of deaths, and make recommendations as it relates to policies, procedures, staffing, and other factors, to the Sheriff or detention facility administrator. Sheriffs or administrators would have 90 days to respond. Recommendations and responses will be made public.
- The bill also directs the BSCC to employ a sufficient number of licensed medical professionals and behavioral health professionals to participate in the reviews described in the oversight requirements, help establish and implement health and behavioral health standards for local detention facilities, and review delivery of medical and behavioral health services within local detention facilities.
Pro Tem Atkins is also a principal co-author on AB 268 by Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego). Responding to State Auditors recommendations, AB 268 would change the composition of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) to include both a medical professional and mental health professional. The bill would also require the Board to adopt standards of care pertaining to incarcerated persons with mental health issues.
Senate Bill 519 now heads to Governor Newsom’s desk for his signature.
Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as Speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As Senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins: www.senate.ca.gov/Atkins