Janice Dotson-Stephens’ family is devastated after learning the mother and grandmother died in jail.
Dotson-Stephens was detained at Texas' Bexar County jail from July 17 until her death on December 14. None of her family members knew she was in trouble, however, as the 61-year-old had a history of mental illness, and her loved ones were used to going a while without hearing from her.
Dotson-Stephens had been arrested before, but police usually sent her to a state hospital for treatment. When her family was unable to reach her, they assumed the grandma had once again been institutionalized.
Dotson-Stephens was jailed on a trespassing charge, and her bail was only $300. A $30 payment could have saved her life.
"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, her daughter-in-law, told KSAT.
Janice reportedly refused multiple interviews and a court appearance during her incarceration. She didn’t receive a mental evaluation until August 27, more than a month after her arrest. A Bexar County staffer claimed the grandmother didn't have any next-of-kin in her files, and the sheriff cannot send people to mental hospitals without a judge's approval.
The Bexar County Sheriff's Office says Janice died of natural causes. Her death is under investigation by a different police department due to a requirement from the Sandra Bland Act, reports MySanAntonio.
“We just felt that she shouldn’t have died as a criminal in the jailhouse," Leticia Dotson said. "She wasn’t a criminal. She had mental health illness."
Michelle Dotson, another relative, remembered Janice’s dedication to her family despite her sickness.
“Despite her illness she was a great mother,” she told Refinery29. “She knew she didn’t always have control and so when she did, she wanted us to be our best.”
The sad death attracted the attention of California Senator Kamala Harris (D), Yahoo reports.
“Our system of justice is supposed to be blind. It is an injustice that a person with money who has been accused of the same offense and can pay to get out of jail, but a person who can’t pay sits in jail with residual consequences, and in this case, tragically dies in jail," the senator wrote. "We must reform our broken money bail system.”
Janice will be buried on December 28.
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