It’s well known that Texas jails are tough places. However, the number of deaths that occur to prisoners while they are incarcerated is alarming.
According to a database from the Texas Justice Initiative, 6,913 people died in legal custody in Texas from 2005 to 2015.
Although many of these prisoners died of natural causes while serving long sentences, others committed suicide. A few died at the hands of other prisoners or correctional officers while factors like excessive heat were linked to some deaths.
The Texas Justice Initiative report was compiled from thousands of internal reports under the direction of Amanda Woog, the postdoctoral legal fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.
The deaths did not just occur in cells. They include fatalities in police cars and on prison sidewalks, Woog stated in the summary report of her findings.
The “suicide” listings include Sandra Bland, who took her life in police custody after a traffic stop. Bland was not alone in dying in a cell before she had been convicted or even been charged with a crime. More than 1,900 of those who died, or 28 percent, were not convicted of or even charged with a crime.
Woog wrote the extra-judicial deaths are diverse and occur at every phase of the criminal justice process. She said the manner of the deaths remains largely “untracked and unexamined.”
Pre-booking deaths, noted The Atlantic rose since 2005, and more than doubled from 74 in 2006 to 152 in 2015.
Sandra Bland was an African-American woman who was put in a cell after an altercation with a trooper. Her death resulted in new legislation in Texas.
The Atlantic article noted the stark racial disparities in Texas’s criminal justice system translate into racial disparities in deaths in custody. While blacks comprised 12 percent of the state’s population in 2010, they made up 36 percent of those jailed between 2005 and 2014. African-Americans also accounted for 30 percent of the deaths in custody from 2005 to 2015.
Texas prisons also face a lawsuit over heat-related deaths. U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison has granted class-action status in a case that relates to the heat-linked deaths of six inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, about 75 miles northwest of downtown Houston.
The Houston Chronicle reported 22 people have lost their lives as a result of indoor weather conditions at 15 state prisons in Texas since 1998, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Conditions at prisons in Texas are of the utmost concern. In some case, people who were charged with minor offenses died in inhumane conditions.
If you have been charged with a crime of any nature, it’s important to avoid incarceration if possible. Please call our Tarrant County criminal defense lawyer.