If you live on the coast, by now you have likely heard about Richard Punquieli and an odyssey that began with his arrest for trespassing on the night of Oct. 21. The 25-year-old Moss Beach resident — who family members say is autistic and has additional mental health challenges — was released from the county jail in Redwood City the next day, beginning a terrifying few days when his family searched across the Bay Area to find him.
You could say all’s well that ends well: Punquieli was found four days later, in San Francisco, wandering without his ID. But to get there you would have to ignore the fact that this is business as usual at the Maguire Correctional Facility and 114 other county lockups across California. Who knows how many similar stories play out every day across the county, state and nation?
Let’s take a step back. What do authorities, what do we, owe someone charged with a crime? It’s a good question without a lot of consensus.
Americans have generally agreed that those charged or convicted should be kept safe and fed at the minimum. There should be reasonable efforts to maintain the health of those incarcerated. Their legal rights must be respected. Beyond that, the empathy of many upstanding citizens wanes.
San Mateo County says it offers a host of services to the incarcerated under its charge. A Sheriff's spokesman says everyone who is booked undergoes a mental health screening. There are vocational programs, the TAILS animal training opportunity, literacy and tutoring courses, and classes in anger management and other socialization efforts designed to help people in jail become more productive members of society.
Less attention is paid to what happens immediately upon release. Perhaps that is why so many Coastsiders were appalled to learn of Punquieli’s situation. The truth is, versions of his story play out every day. The Sheriff’s Office said it would get back to us with data, such as the number of people released each day at 300 Bradford St. in Redwood City. We know that many incarcerated locally suffer from mental and physical challenges that make them likely to reoffend or at least to be rearrested almost immediately without some intervention to help them get home, fed and on their feet again.
A Los Angeles legislator tried to do something about this at the state level. State Sen. Sydney Kamlagerl introduced a bill that would have raised the so-called “gate money” — cash given to an inmate upon release from state prison — from $200 to $2,600. Her goal was to give these men and women a fighting chance to succeed without committing a crime in a world that requires money to survive. If $2,600 seems like a lot, consider the state hasn’t raised the gate money in 50 years and ask yourself how you would start a life in 2022 with a mere $200. No matter. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill.
At the very least, we don’t think it’s too much to ask of our new Sheriff Christina Corpus to designate someone to help people being released find family and otherwise walk out of the gate with some dignity. Forget simple humanity if you like. Do it because we’ll all be safer as a result.