A federal jury in Austin ruled [Friday] that neither the actions of Travis County officials nor of a former jail psychiatrist caused the death of a mentally ill woman found dead in her cell in 2008. But in an extraordinary move, the jury issued a statement calling on the county to improve the operations of its jails.
Following the jury’s decision in the lawsuit brought by the family of 21-year-old Rachel Jackson, who died while in “psych lockdown” in the Del Valle jail, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks agreed that the panel could read a statement into the record.
“While we cannot find that Travis County proximately caused the death of Rachel Jackson,” the foreman said while standing in the jury box, “we do see significant opportunity for improvement in the processes, documentation and communication within the Travis County Correctional center.”
Outside the courthouse, jurors declined to elaborate on the statement to a reporter.In too many cases, jails and prisons substitute for mental health beds, and that appears to be what happened here, with fatal results. Jail facilities weren't created for this purpose, jail staff for the most part aren't trained for it, and in general the criminalization of mental illness has become one of the darkest stains tainting modern society. I'll be interested to learn more about the concerns underlying jurors' public statement.
RELATED: From Patricia Kilday Hart: "Help mentally ill on outside so they don't end up inside."