In 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said there were 1,120 reported deaths in jails nationwide. That’s a rate of 154 deaths for every 100,000 inmates.

One of the major problems of the U.S. jail correctional system is that it’s designed to value profit over people. Overcrowded jails mean there are not enough guards to oversee inmates. Additionally, increased violence and illness are also more likely to occur with overcrowded jail conditions.

The increasing number of in-custody inmate deaths per year is growing and could be avoided.

Three Inmates Dead In Nine Days in Los Angeles County Jail

In March 2023, three inmates died at the Los Angeles County Jail (LACJ).

Samuel Mark, 29, was being held on misdemeanor theft and check fraud charges and his situation took a turn for the worse, and he ended up dead after being held for only three days at LAJC. The other two older inmates’ names have not been released to the public but were also awaiting sentencing.

Melissa Camacho, Senior Staff Attorney at American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said she isn’t surprised about the deaths as Los Angeles jails are operating at 20% over capacity.

Additionally, officials have yet to determine the cause of death for most of the fatalities reported in 2023. Last year’s death count from the county medical examiner recorded 44 deaths in LACJ, with 1/3 of the autopsies never completed.

Negligence In Jail Causes Death

Death of inmates in jail is not a problem solely faced in Los Angeles; it’s happening nationwide.

Data from 2021 shows that in-custody inmate deaths are at an all-time record high.

Correctional facilities like county jails have limited resources and are under heavy pressure from the overcrowding of these facilities nationwide.  Although there are legitimate cases of inmates who are a danger to society and need to be locked up, there are also many instances of inmates that would benefit from a drug prevention program, rehabilitation, or community service program instead of being jammed into an overpopulated prison population.

The Prison Policy Initiative describes jails as “reception centers for those experiencing poverty, mental health crises, or substance use disorders.” Overpopulation leads to negligence — more inmates are attacked, and proper medical care is rare.

Death Happens Quickly

Research reveals that the majority of in-custody inmate deaths occur within the first month of incarceration.  It is much less common to see instances of death of inmates who have had to serve long-term jail sentences. Deaths would not happen as often or as quickly if not for negligence.

Half of all deaths in jail occur within one month of being admitted. 30% of jail deaths are suicides, and half of those who take their lives do so within nine days of jail. ← Intoxication from drugs or alcohol generally kills within one day, while accidents happen around the 10-day mark. The median time of death-by-homicide was 29 days, while illness was 33 days.

 

 

Types of In-Custody Inmate Death        Duration of Incarceration
Majority if Inmate Deaths         30 Days
Illicit Substance Abuse         1 Day
Homicide         29 Days
Illness         33 Days
Suicide         30% occurring within the first nine days of incarceration

 

Poor Medical Care

According to The Prison Policy Initiative, most inmates die from illnesses than other causes.

A woman from Texas died after three days in jail. She begged for help but was ignored and told to clean her own vomit. Her offense? Unpaid traffic tickets.

Sheneque Proctor, 18, died within 14 hours after her arrest at Alabama’s Bessemer City Jail. The young woman was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, which prompted law enforcement officials to ignore the warning signs of her deteriorating health. She died of withdrawals from large quantities of drugs in her system.

medical neglect in custody

Inmate medical neglect is cause for major concern

Private Healthcare Services

One report says that death rates are higher in jails that use private healthcare services. Correctional facilities seem to care more about making money.

Corizon is one such private healthcare company providing  services within correctional facilities. At one jail in Georgia, Corizon wouldn’t allow medical staff to do their jobs, repeatedly overriding their recommendations.

Violence /Inmate Abuse

Quantez Burks, 37, died in March of 2022 within 24 hours of being placed in jail. The autopsy confirmed Burks had fractured ribs and died from blunt force trauma. Findings from the autopsy suggest blunt force was used on him while detained in handcuffs.

Burks was one of over a 100 inmates who died in West Virginia jails in the last decade. In 2022, 14 inmates died at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, West Virginia. Numerous reports of violence, poor medical care, and deplorable housing conditions all contribute to the death toll.

 

inmate fighting

Two men fighting in jail

 

In December 2022, Kimberly Gilley was sexually assaulted by other female inmates looking for drugs. She received poor medical care after the attack and died from complications.

Complaints filed against the jail say that correctional officers often know of the beatings but turn a blind eye.

It’s not only prisoners doing the beatings, either. According to a lawsuit against Southern regional jail, correctional officers allegedly beat inmates themselves.

The lawsuit states officers “regularly beat inmates with no justification as a form of punishment for filing or attempting to file grievances, for talking back, or refusing orders.” The lawsuit alleges officers fabricate stories on about how inmates acquire their injuries.

Poor Or Non-Existent Security Systems

Prison Legal News reports that cameras in U.S. jails are often non-existent and do not provide coverage of all areas within the correctional facility or they tend to “malfunction” regularly when they are present. The lack of working cameras fails to capture abuse and neglect within the prison systems.

Seek Justice for Inmate Death and Jail Negligence

The stories mentioned in this article are just a small glimpse into a growing problem within correctional facilities nationwide. Jails across the United States are overcrowded, with no proper oversight of correctional officers treatment of inmates that are being housed in overcrowded facilities. Many inmates would benefit from alternate methods of treatment rather than incarceration which does nothing to help addiction, mental health, physical health and rehabilitation. Inmates are denied medical care and are sent to facilities with out a second thought by officials.

More people must insist on change, or these unnecessary deaths will continue. Don’t wait to seek justice and due compensation for unlawful treatment of inmates—whether that is from death, abuse or medical neglect. We want to hear about your case. Please contact our civil rights attorneys for a free consultation.

See our case results and jail death settlements.