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Idaho legislator says best friend’s suicide inspired proposed mugshot bill

Politics

BOISE — Two Idaho legislators want to change how mugshots are released for people booked into jails during mental health crises through a bi-partisan bill.

Representatives Brooke Green, D-Boise, and Marco Erickson, R-Idaho Falls, are co-sponsoring Idaho House Bill 620, which was introduced to the legislature Monday. If passed, the bill would prohibit disclosing booking images for those arrested, detained or hospitalized for mental health purposes, provided their alleged crime is a misdemeanor and does not involve assault or battery.

Proposing and presenting the bill is personal to Green, who lost her best friend Jessica Harrison to suicide in 2019. Harrison, who served as the Idaho Association of Cities director, struggled with mental illness. As friends and family tried to get Harrison committed for help, she was ultimately arrested on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and trespassing.

“The day she gets arrested, she gets processed in the Ada County Jail, they take her mugshot,” Green told EastIdahoNews.com. “The media picks it up and it gets blown up all over the news. At the same time, she is transferring to the hospital and she is finally getting committed.”

Green said when those who were close to Harrison saw her mugshot on the news, they knew her life would be impacted forever. Harrison was ultimately released from a mental health facility, and later, charges were dismissed.

Jessica Harrison
Jessica Harrison | Courtesy photo

“Here it is, this one person most terrible day where a mugshot is going to remind her of the day she had no control of her actions,” Green said. “We captured it in film and we stuck it out there for entertainment purposes for people to pass judgment.”

Three months later, Harrison took her own life.

“While I can’t get my best friend back, I can certainly acknowledge that this is one step at moving forward to decriminalizing mental health in Idaho,” Green said.

In the bill, a sheriff’s office could not release to the public the mugshot for those booked on misdemeanors if they are detained on a mental health hold or transferred to receive medical care for mental illness within 24 hours of booking. The exception would be those charged with assault or battery.

The booking photo in these cases could be made public once the case reaches a verdict of guilty or the person pleads guilty, but no earlier than three months following booking.

“It gives them (the) dignity to get the help they need without their mugshot being presented on a website,” Green said. “It enables them to keep that moment private while they work through the system to get help.”

Erickson, whose background is in mental health, felt supporting the bill would also be a step forward in making changes to how Idaho treats those with mental illness.

“We look at the strategic plan and things that can be changed, little tweaks in code (law) and small things that can be done to help people with mental health crises going on,” Erickson said. “That’s been my focus since I got here is bills related to that topic.”

House Bill 620 is currently awaiting a hearing with the House Judiciary Rules and Administration Committee in the coming weeks.

In 2021, Utah passed legislation that probits the public release of most mugshots until an individual is convicted. The bill received strong pushback from the media and First Amendment advocates who said mugshots should be part of the public record.

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