Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure aimed at addressing the circumstances that led to the death of Sandra Bland in a county jail days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop, reports the Texas Tribune. The Sandra Bland Act requires county jails to divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, makes it easier for defendants to receive a personal bond if they have a mental illness or intellectual disability, and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.
The law’s namesake, a 28-year-old from Illinois, died in the Waller County Jail in 2015. Her arrest followed a lengthy argument with then-Trooper Brian Encinia, which was documented by the officer’s dashboard camera. After Bland’s death – which was ruled a suicide – her family, activists and lawmakers criticized the rural jail’s leadership and Encinia. The bill originally tackled racial profiling during traffic stops, consent searches and counseling for police officers who profiled drivers, in addition to jail reforms. That bill didn’t move out of committee because of opposition from law enforcement groups and lawmakers concerned about unfunded mandates. The measure became a mostly mental health bill, which ultimately passed both chambers without opposition. Bland’s family expressed disappointment in the final version, calling it a missed opportunity because it removed language relevant to Bland’s stop.