Civil Liberties

Jail Deaths Are a National Disgrace

And the problem is getting worse.

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More than 7,500 Americans died in jail during the last decade, and two-thirds of them were never convicted of a crime. Those are the stunning topline numbers from an investigation that Reuters published in October.

Anyone who has paid attention to the issue has known for a long time that jail deaths from neglect and occasional malevolence are a nationwide problem—especially when jails become the de facto solution to mental health and drug addiction crises. Last summer, for example, Reason reported on the story of 46-year-old Holly Barlow-Austin, who suffered from medical neglect for months at a Texarkana, Texas, jail before being transferred to a hospital and eventually dying of sepsis due to fungus, cryptococcal meningitis, HIV/AIDS, and accelerated hypertension.

A 2016 HuffPost investigation found more than 800 jail deaths in the year following the nationally covered death behind bars of Sandra Bland. But the Reuters report is the most comprehensive public effort to put a firm number on such deaths. The outlet estimates that the number of people who have died while locked up in the United States has increased 35 percent during the last decade.

Of the 7,571 jail deaths Reuters identified, most were due to illness. But "more than 2,000 took their own lives amid mental breakdowns, including some 1,500 awaiting trial or indictment," it reported. "A growing number—more than 1 in 10 last year—died from the acute effects of drugs and alcohol. Nearly 300 died after languishing behind bars, unconvicted, for a year or more."

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has been collecting mortality reports from local jails and prisons for more than two decades. But it has refused to release the raw data, instead publishing an aggregate number for each state. Under the Trump administration, the BJS stopped releasing even those summary reports, and the Justice Department has said it has no plans to resume publishing them.

Deprivation of life without due process is the most severe and irreversible of constitutional abuses. Yet every level of government, from the feds to the states to counties where sheriffs often rule with little oversight, shows a profound lack of interest in disclosing how often and why jail inmates die.

We can't solve a problem we can't see or measure. The Justice Department needs to release the full data it collects on jail deaths, while states and counties must hold law enforcement leadership accountable for the lives under their lock and key.

NEXT: Brickbat: When Seconds Count

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  2. “more than 2,000 took their own lives amid mental breakdowns, including some 1,500 awaiting trial or indictment,” That 2,000 needs to be removed from the overarching number. Suicide is a choice of the inmate that jails can’t control, and more importantly, when you give the big number, you’re implying that people are dying to maleficence. Not that they got caught committing a crime and they can’t bear to live with the consequences to their jobs and social circles.

    When people dig into your numbers and immediately start seeing things being counted that aren’t what your narrative implies, they justly lose faith in your numbers. 5,000 vs 7,000 won’t make a difference in convincing people, but including suicides vs not will convince people your providing bogus facts.

    1. Do you think jail is the right place to put people who are suicidal and/or having a mental breakdown? I don’t. And I think the point is that many of those people would not have taken their own lives had they been treated for their problems instead of being tossed into a cage a treated like an animal.

      1. Strapping the mentally ill to a bed in an institution and forcing them to take drugs is the humane approach, you see.

        1. False dichotomy for the win!

          1. So what exactly do you propose to do with someone in the throes of a mental breakdown then? Not jail, we’ve established that. Not involuntary commitment either, apparently. Yet some sort of “treatment”. Go ahead.

            1. Magic rainbows and unicorns, duh.

              You expect him to give a real answer? He just knows that whatever is happening is bad and something must be done. He’s basically a full blow naive leftist at this point. Screw reality. Reality is messy. He doesn’t want messy.

              1. Compulsive Compassionates.

                After the vaccines for COVID and TDS, we need to work for a CC cure.

            2. Involuntary treatment is sometimes necessary but you treat these people as if they were your brothers and sisters meaning you make the place as safe and comfortable as possible. Nice beds, good food, TV, and I’d even give them massages. Itd be like getting involuntary committed to the spa. Being a nice person isn’t hard. You should try it.

              1. Strazele sounds like a good thing for them seriously and I’m glad you have ideas on how to help, but who’s paying for it? Me? when do I get money for good food and massages? Can I also quit working now?

              2. There’s people committed somewhere near you. And that place probably, after signing a HIPPA release, will let you volunteer there. I’m sure you’ll get right on that.

              3. That sounds fabulous LOS, much better than working for a living. You get that implemented and I’ll be sure to get myself “involuntarily committed” if that is what your pushing. Not sure how society functions, but not my problem.

              4. “I’d even give them massages. ”

                And then they would bite your nose off and we would laugh at you.

              5. I agree with all that. The trouble is, nice beds, good food, and TV all cost money. EFFECTIVE mental health services is very expensive and out of reach for most, unfortunately.

      2. Do you remember how the great depression had all those business men jumping from their buildings to their deaths? Suicide isn’t always a mental health problem. Especially if proceeded by a giant life changing event, like getting caught committing a crime.

        I certainly don’t think we should start a precedent that threatening your own life gets you let off for committing crimes against other people.

        1. So now everyone in jail committed a crime against another person?

          1. fAlSE DicHOtoMy fOR ThE WiN!

            1. Um, no. A false dichotomy is when you present an either-or and when other options exist. For example suicide in a jail cell or strapped to a bed.

              1. Or for an actual, either “I certainly don’t think we should start a precedent that threatening your own life gets you let off for committing crimes against other people” or “everyone in jail committed a crime against another person”.

                1. Nah, you’ve already made up your mind that there are only two options. I’m not going to waste my time with you.

                  1. That was supposed to be in response to 7:57.

                    And now you’re taking my response to Illocust and treating it as if there is no context. Sorry, but you’re not honest. Bye.

                    1. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

                      “I could totally support my argument, but you were mean to me by pointing out that I constructed a false dichotomy after incorrectly pointing out one of yours so now I won’t”

                      Man what an intellectual dynamo.

                  2. Lmfao, that was a quote from you and the post you replied to you fucking idiot. Drunk before 9 AM as usual, I see.

                    I take it that means you’ll also conveniently be depriving me of that vast range of “treatments” that don’t involve involuntary commitment and medication as an intervention for a suicidal mental breakdown? I guess it’s too bad I made up my mind before you could shatter my fAlSE DicHOtoMy

                    1. He probably wants other people to pay for said treatments too. Maybe they just need a good 6 month hawaii vacation, or not have to work and be paid not to, etc. He is ridiculous at this point. Fully turned into Jeff.

                    2. Hey J, what do you call it when you strike down arguments I never made?

                    3. Everyone calls it “a sarcasmic”

              2. Go ahead and present all those other “treatment” options between jail and involuntary medical confinement as an intervention for a person in a suicidal mental breakdown whenever you’re ready by the way. The invitation still stands just like it did when you ignored it in favor of special pleading that your false dichotomy doesn’t actually count.

                1. You’re going to shoot down whatever I say because you’re not honest. I’m not wasting my time with you.

                  1. Yes, I know you can’t support your argument. Thanks for accidentally stumbling into an admission of such.

                  2. Just admit you said something stupid and you don’t have an answer. It isn’t that hard. You live in a world outside reality when you are in arguments. Bringing reality into the equation always stumps you. Take a lesson from this.

                  3. Poor sarc. Wasting his time to make comments saying he’s not going to waste his time making comments.

                    1. It was Tulpa.

                2. as an intervention for a person in a suicidal mental breakdown

                  Don’t forget to add “who has committed a crime”

                  1. Everyone in jail committed a crime? Why bother with courts? Why not go full Judge Dredd?

                    1. Sarcasmic, seems we are heading that way. Look at how we are all treated during covid. I’m guilty for not being sick.

                    2. That’s different because he’s afraid.

          2. Are you going to argue that not a single person in jail hasn’t? Are you going to argue that not a single one of those suicides was made by someone who ruined their own life by commiting a violent crime against another person and can’t stand to live with the consequences?

            If you aren’t willing to argue the above, then you are agreeing that the numbers as currently set up are including suicides of people that have committed violent crimes against others and can’t stand the fall out that’s causing on their personal life. Which is not the type of situation that most people would consider the state’s fault, and therefore not something that is a national shame. Therefore making the overarching number weaker in the exact same way gun grabbers make their arguments weaker by including suicides in their death statistics.

            If you want a strong argument remove the suicides. 7,000 vs 5,000 isn’t a big difference from a persuasion point of view, and there is very little reason not to do it.

            1. You’re making way too many assumptions as if you know everyone’s story. I see your point, but I completely disagree.

              1. “You’re making way too many assumptions as if you know everyone’s story. ”

                Um, no he isn’t. You obviously didn’t read his post.

                “I see your point, but I completely disagree.”

                You didn’t even read it lolz

                1. In sarc’s defense, “not a single person” is a complicated phrase when you’re shitfaced at 9 am.

      3. So if you commit a crime, just tell the guards you’re suicidal and you get released? Is that really the argument you are going to go with? Committing a crime and getting caught sucks. What is your proposed solution to the negative consequences of such?

        What is with your growing naivete?

        1. There has to be something between being treated like an animal in a cage and being strapped to a hospital bed.

          1. Yet you refuse to say what it is you want.

            Reality is messy. What is your preferred action. These are people who committed a crime. The crime has to have some form of restitution. Your argument currently is to release anybody who may have a negative mental outcome from being caught.

            What is the action you think would fix this. Because right now you’ve talked yourself into a corner of releasing everyone mentally unstable.

            1. These are people who committed a crime.

              If you bothered to read the article you’d see that many of these deaths happened before the people saw a court room.

              1. And you still refuse to answer the question that several different people have asked you.

              2. So people only commit crimes in courtrooms? Now I get why the defund the police narrative took off with people like you, you’re morons.

              3. Sarc, I realize this hits home for you because of your own mental health issues and criminality, but you aren’t even being rational.

        2. By the way, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? Your comment implies that everyone in a jail cell is guilty of a crime.

          1. And he goes full Jeff folks! There are many reasons for initially jailing someone. Initial overnight holds are not judging someone guilty dummy.

            1. You’re the one saying that everyone in jail committed a crime, not me.

              1. I didn’t say that, so answer the question.

              2. “You’re the one saying that everyone in jail committed a crime,”

                Can you quote where he said that?

                Bet you can’t.

      4. Yes. If they’re dangerous, they belong in jail.

    2. Same trick the gun grabbers use to inflate their “gun crime” numbers. Bear in mind this is the same outfit that just got done arguing that convicted rapists and murderers on death row should be spared from execution in case they get the coof. They’re lying, mendacious, duplicitous pieces of shit that will mangle any set of numbers in any way they must in order to advance their narrative, which just coincidentally happens to always be 100% parallel to Marxism.

    3. “Suicide is a choice of the inmate that jails can’t control”

      Isn’t the whole point of putting someone in jail to control them?

      1. The amount of resources required to stop someone from committing suicide is immense.

        1. Lots of money was spent trying to prevent Jeffrey Epstein’s death in prison, but not enough to prevent his death, which was likely caused by a very wealthy high profile person who wants/ed to avoid prison (if Epstein disclosed key info).

      2. You want to bind their arms and legs?

        Suicides by people in jail, whether they’re crazy or not, is not something I can get worked up about. It’s bad enough that people have to sit in jail, often for long periods, awaiting trial. If you want to assure they don’t kill themselves, you’re going to have to make all those people’s lives hell during those intervals.

        I can see people being kept under close restraint if they’re brought in intoxicated, but that should wear off in a short time.

        1. who cares ? is this really even an issue ??

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  4. Another reason we should implement our benefactor Charles Koch’s preferred policy — #EmptyThePrisons / #EmptyTheJails. Why should people spend their prime years behind bars when they could be providing highly-skilled labor for Koch Industries?

  5. I seem to remember Reason arguing that guns suicides shouldn’t be included in gun deaths.. and yet here…

    1. So you see no difference between someone committing suicide out in the world and someone committing suicide after being locked in a cage and treated like an animal?

      1. Being arrested and put into a holding cell after committing a crime is being treated like an animal?

        Well there you have it folks, nobody should ever be prosecuted for crimes in Sarcasmic’s world. Just complete anarchy.

        1. You’re getting really good at refuting arguments I never made.

        2. By the way JesseAz, you still haven’t explained why you are in favor of gang rape.

          You’ve said I support Biden because I never said I didn’t. You called it tacit support. Well you’ve never said you were against gang rape. That means you tacitly support it. And don’t go saying you don’t, because that would be back peddling.

          So please JesseAz, tell us, why do you thing gang rapists are wonderful people?

  6. Another Reason article this week telling us prisons are mean and sad.

    Sorry, but isn’t that the point? Sure, let’s talk about what constitutes a crime, and how to improve policing and trials. But after that, why should imprisonment be happy?

    1. What is the purpose of prison?

      1. To isolate dangerous people.

        Argue what constitutes dangerous if you feel the need.

        1. He won’t even answer the question several people have asked him throughout the thread.

          1. When was I suddenly obligated to answer every question, especially from people like you, Yehuda, JesseAz, Social Justice is neither and Nancy Kozikowski who do not argue in good faith?

            You’re not looking for an exchange of ideas. You’re just looking for a “gotcha.”

            1. It’s a very simple question, that you have no answer to. Or you could just acknowledge that suicide deaths shouldn’t be used to make the point of this article.

              1. We don’t know how many of these people would have killed themselves anyway, or if it was in reaction to being put into a cage. Then there is the fact that depraved indifference is a requirement for working in a jail. I would guess that many of these suicides could have been prevented. Unfortunately these are all counterfactuals, so we’ll never know.

                1. “so we’ll never know.”

                  So it shouldn’t be included in this article. Just admit you were arguing just to argue and got caught.

                  1. I can’t give a definitive yes or no because there isn’t enough information. You seem to be ready to just sweep it under the rug. “Who cares? Cops don’t throw innocent people in jail. Fuck ’em.” Cops throw innocent people in jail all the time. And many of these suicides happened while awaiting trial. So they were still innocent until proven guilty. It’s not something to simply ignore.

                    1. “Who cares? Cops don’t throw innocent people in jail. Fuck ’em.”

                      You don’t understand what quotation marks are do you? Because I’ve never said, nor believe anything like that.

                      Illocust’s argument was that including them isn’t necessary, and is misleading to the author’s general point. Which it is. And it’s become more and more frequent at Reason to conflate and exaggerate to make their point, when it not only doesn’t help an argument, it actually hurts it, because people can see what they’re doing.

                    2. You don’t understand what quotation marks are do you? Because I’ve never said, nor believe anything like that.

                      Did you notice the word “seems”?

                      Illocust’s argument was that including them isn’t necessary, and is misleading to the author’s general point. Which it is.

                      Only if all the suicides would have happened anyway, which I doubt. If some were a result of depraved indifference or mistreatment then yeah, I do think they should be counted.

                    3. What did I say to imply that I believe that?

                    4. What did I say to imply that I believe that?

                      You seemed to be defending those who were implying that everyone in jail committed a crime. If I was wrong then I apologize. Actually no, I don’t. You called me a drunk twice. So fuck off.

                    5. Calling you drunk means I think no innocent people ever go to jail. Got it.

                    6. Um, no. I said that I must have made some wrong assumptions, apologized, and then withdrew my apology because you’re a dick. Try to keep up.

                    7. Poor sarc, such a victim on these boards.

                    8. I actually appreciate that you were able to be civil for a few comments. But you will no doubt return to trying to impress your high school buddies. Whatever.

                    9. yes, it is something to ignore. Suicides are happening out side of jails…deal with them first.

                      This is fake concern.

            2. Because you are arguing in bad faith I see no reason to to treat you better. You demand perfect information be provided by others but use your lack of such as a shield against providing anything meaningful. You make sweeping generalizations only to retreat into minutia about every case being unknown when called out. Counterfactual are just fine for support for you but not others unless you can use them for offense or defense.

              1. I exaggerate and use hyperbole a lot. I take things to logical conclusions. I point out that intentions aren’t results. If you don’t like it then ignore me.

      2. Deterrence via punishment (for those with some degree of self control) and isolation from society (for those who don’t).

        Its like front door locks. They work to deter the majority of people, but fail to deter the hard-core. That’s when the shotgun is useful.

        1. As an ex-coworker of mine would say “Locks keep honest people honest. They don’t stop criminals.”

          1. “Locks keep honest people honest.” Ive havent commented here on awhile but what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

            1. I’m imagining Sgt. Hartman teaching Pyle about why locks exist.

            2. An honest person might check the door and, if it’s locked, walk away. A dishonest person will check the door and, if it’s locked, check the window.

  7. Add it to the list, I guess.

  8. More than 7,500 Americans died in jail during the last decade

    So out of a prison population of around 1 million, that works out to a rate of 0.075% per year. We need more lockdowns!!!

    Oh, wait…

  9. Killing oneself (for whatever reason) is vastly different than being killed by someone else, which is vastly different than dying from a long term chronic disease, which is vastly different than dying from a treatable infection.

    But according to this left wing nonlibertarian Reason writer, existing criminal statutes (and/or their enforcers or adjudicators) are to blame for all deaths that occur at government facilities (or at least prisons).

    Gun control activists also deceitfully include suicides by gun in their so-called gun violence data in their attempts to deceive the public and ban guns. But murder and suicide are drastically different, and those who conflate them are deceitful.

    The author of this article should be pleased that last week a judge released an Islamist terrorist from prison because he was severely obese, and as such, was at higher risk of dying of covid (than other inmates who might contract the virus).

  10. The number of victimless crimes that will get you tossed in jail is the true national disgrace.

    1. That is absolutely true.

    2. It’s a true worldwide disgrace.

      Have we just given up on ameliorating that disgrace, so we fall back to making conditions in jail better for everyone? Kind of like giving up on cutting taxes any further, to fall back on government giving everybody money (or goods or seervices), some of which will surely be in compensation for taxes?

    3. Add to that the number of petty crimes that are considered felonies in most states.

  11. A national disgrace is not protecting our sovereign borders. Or allowing our elections to be decided by fraudulent voting. Or electing a feeble senile old man as our president. Or allowing far left agitators to inflict violence without any punishment. Or our federal police and intelligence services used to do the bidding of far left traitors.

    But it would be silly if me to compare that to some skeezy drug addicts.

  12. “Should suicides in jail be counted in this statistic?”

    Well that is a difficult question to answer because there are many different types of suicides.

    There are those who know they are guilty and would rather take their own lives rather than face punishment in a court. For that type of suicide, I don’t think the state should bear much culpability, other than perhaps not doing more to prevent people in general from committing suicide in the first place.

    Then there are those who are murdered in jail and the crime is covered up and made to seem like a “suicide”. For those situations, absolutely the state should be held responsible, either for committing the crime of murder itself or for permitting it to happen on their watch.

    Then there are a whole lot of gray areas in between. For example, consider someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. That person might be taking medication to manage the illness just fine, but the traumatic experience of being arrested and sent to jail may be enough to trigger a depressive episode severe enough for suicide to occur. For THAT type of situation, the suicide wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for the act of getting arrested, and for that the state should definitely bear some responsibility, ESPECIALLY if the individual involved was actually innocent, or the ‘crime’ for which the person was arrested was some bullshit crime like smoking a joint.

  13. Fuck off.

    They’re murderers, still murdering.

    The disgrace is how they continue their criminal behaviour while incarcerated.

    Bullets only cost $.05

  14. “Jail Deaths Are a National Disgrace
    And the problem is getting worse.”

    The author’s insinuation might as well have been spelled out even more clearly: “Prisons and Jails are all bad and are poorly run by sadistic killers.”

    I didn’t put the idea out there — the author did. It is now the author’s job to back it up. It didn’t happen. They saw big numbers and made an assumption. That assumption was backed up by compelling and supporting facts and examples such as… wait for it… “Anyone who has paid attention to the issue has known for a long time that jail deaths from neglect and occasional malevolence are a nationwide problem.” Yawn. Argumentum ad populum would get what, a C- in middle school?

    This article failed spectacularly at supporting its main thesis. If a huge majority of the deaths were from illness, and a very large number from suicide, and almost 1 in 10 died from the acute effects of drugs and alcohol, it seems to me that it is what it is. Mentioning one or two questionable deaths from a data set that spans ten years does not constitute a “national disgrace.” Relative to other countries, it might even be something to be proud of. Except that the author assumes the sadistic prison warden stereotype is always in charge: “…every level of government, from the feds to the states to counties where sheriffs often rule with little oversight, shows a profound lack of interest in disclosing how often and why jail inmates die.”

    Swing and a miss

  15. Jail deaths are a National Disgrace…and so are the 6,000 plus covid deaths in New York City nursing home patients as a result of Der Fuhrer Cuomo forcing covid hospital patients to be sent to those nursing homes.

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  17. It would be more humane to give these people a good flogging and send them on their way.

    At least they’d still be alive, and since many people in prison end up getting in fights or raped, I don’t know what reasonable person would find corporal punishment to be less humane than that barbaric environment.

    1. How about exile and/or outlaw status?

  18. 7500 deaths over a decade. Out of 2.3 million people incarcerated. That’s lower than outside the prison system by a large margin. Journalists do have trouble with math. No fact checking in this article

  19. Last summer, for example, Reason reported on the story of 46-year-old Holly Barlow-Austin, who suffered from medical neglect for months at a Texarkana, Texas, jail before being transferred to a hospital and eventually dying of sepsis due to fungus, cryptococcal meningitis, HIV/AIDS, and accelerated hypertension.

    Given this list of conditions, it’s clear that she did not, in fact, die as a result of incarceration.

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