Friday, January 15, 2016

Texas jail deaths continue despite 'zero tolerance'

Our friends at the Texas Jail Project have been busy lately. Last week, Emily Ling and Rebecca Larsen published an op ed in the Houston Chronicle titled, "Stop jail suicides and deaths: Here's how."

They begin by quoting Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire from a hearing in September declaring he would "have zero tolerance for jail suicides and deaths."
And yet since the hearing on Sept. 22, there have been at least 13 more deaths in Texas county jails, seven of which are apparent suicides.

In reviewing the recent deaths, several issues stand out.

First, seven of the deaths in recent months have come from just three counties - Webb, McLennan and Fort Bend. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards found McLennan and Fort Bend to be out of compliance with minimum jail standards.

Those findings came only after inspections prompted by people dying. Webb County has yet to be found out-of-compliance with any state standards, despite the fact that three people died in the jail in the month of November alone.

Increased scrutiny has also revealed systemic disregard of safety by jail staff. Last month, following the suicide of Michael Angelo Martinez, three McLennan County correctional officers were arrested for falsifying records after an inspection revealed they tried to hide their failure to make mandated checks on those in their care.

Jailers must be trained and required to prioritize safe and humane care.

Additionally, all but one of the 13 people who died in county jails had not yet been convicted; they were awaiting the disposition of their cases.

On average, more than 60 percent of people in county jails are in a pretrial status, many in custody for court hearings simply because they cannot afford to post bail.
In related news, on Facebook, Emily Ling posted these data for 2015 jail deaths in Texas:
2015 Inmate Deaths in Texas County Jails:

1. Harris County - 16 deaths
2. Travis County - 8 deaths
3. Bexar County - 7 deaths
4. Dallas County - 5 deaths

Brazos, Fort Bend, Liberty, Webb, & Williamson Counties all had 3 people die in each of their jails within this past year.

Bowie, Comal, El Paso, Nueces, Walker, & Wharton Counties all had 2 people die in each of their jails.

And another 28 county jails had at least 1 inmate die in their custody, including the death of ‪#‎SandraBland‬ in Waller County Jail.

In total we know at least 99 people died this past year while in the custody of a Texas county jail. The majority of them had not been convicted of any crime. But there is no guarantee that "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't mean you won't lose your life in our criminal justice system. The Texas Jail Project is working to change that.


Anonymous said...

Without context, these numbers are meaningless. How do these death rates compare to the general population? People die outside of jail as well, and I'm going to suggest that the population of people who wind up in jail die at a higher rate than the general population even when they're not incarcerated. The relevant question isn't, "Are people dying in jail?", it's "Are people dying in jail at a rate that is, in a statistically significant sense, higher than what we would expect?" We could #endmassencareration, as Ling puts it, and people would still die in jail prior to trial.

I'm a prosecutor, and I had a defendant die in jail while his appeal was pending. He was old and unhealthy when he was arrested. Does it reflect poorly on the system if we arrest an obese sexagenarian (who was a continuing threat) and he dies a year into his lengthy litigation?

Anonymous said...

@12:33:00 AM
"Are people dying in jail at a rate that is, in a statistically significant sense, higher than what we would expect?" Yes, sir, they are, if you consider their age. The example you give:
" He was old and unhealthy when he was arrested" is a very poor one and statistically insignificant, although I understand it was used to make a point which would be valid if supported by valid stats.

If you look at stats, most people who end up in jail are between the age of 16 and 39. I calculated the median and the mean based on reported stats (example below for 2012 and 2014): age 33.7 - the majority of inmates are between the age of 18 and 39. Most people who have died in jails fall also in this age-bracket. Only very, very few are over the age of 49.

Just for your perusal, for 2012 stats go to page 62 of this report:

For 2014:

-Almost 13 percent of black males in their late 20s are in prison or jail, while for Texas is tops, with 704 per 100,000 people in state prisons. A significant high number of black men in the age range 21-29 end up in jail, then in prison.
- The large majority of folks who end up in jail are under the age of 49
- The age of prisoners dying in "jail" captivity follows these demographics.

REGARDLESS: old or young, when one is ill, a hospital is the proper place to die. An ill prisoner needs to receive appropriate medical care or to be in a hospital, not in jail - the majority of crimes are non-violent ones and the threat these inmates pose, if placed in a hospital, is minimal.

I don't know you sir, and I may be wrong. I sense though, that, having been a prosecutor, you suffer from cognitive dissonance and are unable to truly comprehend or see the truth when it is presented to you as a fact. You are used to find every excuse in the book to justify the unjustifiable, to deny what you find inconvenient, to cover up mistakes, and to learn to live with all that goes on without having to feel any guilt for the injustices around you.

We need prosecutors. What we don't need is blind and deaf prosecutors. Unfortunately most TX prosecutors choose to be blind and deaf when they hear/see an inconvenient truth. I hope you don't belong in that category. I fear you do.

Anonymous said...

Most are non-violent offenders (while this report does not include age, these offenses are usually perpetrated by people under 30 and by those who are younger and impulsive.
 77.8 percent of state jail offenders are male.
 Approximately one-third of state jail offenders are African American and approximately onethird
are White.
 51.4 percent of state jail offenders were incarcerated for a property offense.
 Of those incarcerated for a property offense 50.6 percent were incarcerated for larceny, 17.6
percent were incarcerated for burglary, and 11.5 percent were for forgery.
STATUTORY REFERENCES Texas Government Code, Chapter 491

Unknown said...

Responding to 12:33:00 AM - Younger, not older folks end up in jail.
Texas State report: "the adult population most at-risk of criminal justice involvement are adults ages 17 to 34.

1. From calendar years 2008 to 2012, the adult population (adults age 17 or older) increased 6.8 percent, from 18.2 to 19.4 million people, as estimated by the Texas State Data Center and Office of the State Demographer.
2. These agencies project the population will increase 10.8 percent (or 2.1 million adults) from calendar years 2012 to 2019.
3. These agencies estimate that the adult population most at-risk of criminal justice involvement (adults ages 17 to 34) also increased from calendar year 2008 to 2012, but the increase
was smaller (2.1 percent or from 6.6 to 6.8 million people).

Unknown said...

Many jail deaths are attributed to suicide. We don't know how many deaths are indeed suicide and how many are instead cover-ups. At any rate, if they are indeed suicides, "even after adjusting for differences associated with age, gender, and ethnicity, suicide is the only cause of death that occurs at a higher rate in local jails than in the U.S. general population."

More details:
"SUICIDE IS THE SECOND LEADING cause of death in Texas prisons and jails. Only natural causes claim more inmate lives under custody each year. Of the roughly 200 inmate deaths annually in Texas, nearly a quarter is the result of suicide. For county jails in Texas, the proportion is even higher: 31 percent of jail deaths are suicides, whereas suicides comprise only 21 percent of prison
deaths (Figure 1).1 This discrepancy between prisons and jails is not altogether surprising.
-------Because jails house inmates for shorter periods of time, it is reasonable to expect that natural causes will account for a smaller proportion of deaths, while suicides will account for a larger proportion, when compared to prison deaths.

-------The question then is how do suicide rates in jail compare with suicide rates
in prison, or elsewhere?
-------When standardized per 100,000 inmates, jail suicides happen at more than three times the rate of suicide in state prisons, national studies find.
-------Even after adjusting for differences associated with age, gender, and
ethnicity, suicide is the only cause of death that occurs at a higher rate in local
jails than in the U.S. general population.

In fact, a comprehensive study on jail suicide by leading correctional suicides expert Lindsay Hayes suggests this rate of jail suicide is as much as three times the rate in the general population.

Given the disproportionate incidence of suicide in county jails, this report seeks to understand who is most at-risk in Texas jails, specifically, and what can be done to reduce the rate and number of suicides. To address these questions, this report presents the findings of an original analysis using data obtained through the Texas Tribune in 2010. This dataset reflects all deaths in custody in
Texas between January 1, 2005, and September 1, 2009, and was collected by state and local agencies in accordance with reporting requirements under the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), run by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Detailed information on methodology can be found at the end of this report. - LBJ Journal of Public Affairs
Portrait of Suicides in Texas Jails Spring Fall 2008 2013

Unknown said...

More info for those who doubt what's really going on.
Please, forgive the numerous postings. I am trying to present more information as I realize that many involved in the system will try to deny, minimize, or ignore this unconstitutional and horrendous situation.

"Last month, McLennan County received a notice of non-compliance from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards after the death of 25-year-old Michael Martinez in the Jack Harwell Detention Center.Three employees of the privately run jail have been arrested and charged with forging government documents after they allegedly covered up the fact that they were not performing visual checks on at-risk people — a violation of federal law. Records indicated that jailers had checked on Martinez within the required half-hour time span, but an investigation revealed that Martinez had been hanging for almost three hours when found.
...... At the Texas Jail Project, we have received pleas for help from families concerned about loved ones being refused mental-health treatment, essential medications and medical care.

Several days before Christmas, another story came to light when the Tribune-Herald revealed that a formerly jailed 30-year-old woman filed a lawsuit in Waco’s 170th State District Court against LaSalle Corrections. The lawsuit alleges she was repeatedly sexually assaulted at the facility and goes on to describe an out-of-control institution rife with smuggling, extortion and drug abuse.
...... Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed all immigrant detainees from the Jack Harwell Center after ongoing claims of civil rights violations by attorneys and advocates. Prior to May of 2013, another private contractor of this facility, CEC, was cited for sexual abuse and other violations.

Despite ongoing controversy, McLennan County renewed its contract with LaSalle last year with the addition of a 90 percent occupancy clause: If the jail is filled with fewer people than 90 percent of its available beds, LaSalle can end its contract with a 90-day notice. We believe that a jail should not have a contracted mandate to stay full because that results in a deliberate effort to increase the number of arrests.

This does not make Waco a safer community and intensifies mistrust of law enforcement.

Predictably, jail population increased from 85 percent capacity in January 2014 to 93 percent capacity this past November. In response to those numbers, a LaSalle executive actually said, “We have been blessed to have a relatively good history of increasing the jail population for our clients.”

That statement reveals a callous disregard for the citizens of this area and demonstrates how a for-profit jail company exploits its role. LaSalle seeks to satisfy its clients — its shareholders — no matter the cost to vulnerable families and to “the least of these my brethren.”

McLennan County now has the fifth largest incarceration rate among Texas counties, despite a lower-than-state average violent crime rate. As of Nov. 1, 75 percent of jailed people in McLennan County were pretrial. That means they have not been convicted of anything and, except for a few rare cases where bail is denied, are waiting in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.

The people of McLennan County deserve better. McLennan County should take steps to ensure that a facility this important to thousands of Texans be operated by administrators who are committed to more than a profit margin.

Diana Claitor, executive director of Texas Jail Project, which works with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, other advocates such as Catholic Conference of Texas, and sheriffs and jail administrators to improve conditions of confinement, especially for those held pretrial. Rebecca Larsen is its communications coordinator."

Anonymous said...

This situation is not only appalling, but downright criminal.

People said...

Thats the problem is having prosecuters like you that dont care about these inmates,you are just used to prosecute people if they are guilty or not,you as a prosecuter are there to make them guilty even if you have to not show the info needed to prove they are not guilty,thats what you do,back to your comment,As such a smart person you are why was there no Medical Help given???That goes back to the State Jails,Why do you act like the money is coming out of your pocket?It is State money and Medical is suppose to be given to inmates.You as a State Employee work for us Tax payers and need to give Medical care to people and innates! People in Texas need to Vote!

Anonymous said...

Yes those inmates need Medical help and we as people need to make sure this happens! Not Death!

Anonymous said...

This post is not about State Jails, it is about County Jails. You may want to read it again so that your comments are about the post.