By Alek Hidell
A new report on Texas in-custody deaths, released by the Texas Justice Initiative, showed that nearly 7,000 inmates died between 2005 and 2015. The study compiled data reported by law enforcement and jail officials. It looked at totals by suicide, homicide, natural causes and illness. Texas has an unusually high number of in-custody deaths; unfortunately, it is not outside the norm nationally.
The study found that here were a total of 6,913 total deaths in the decade-long reporting period for the state of Texas alone. Statistically, eleven percent committed suicide, eight percent died from drugs, alcohol or other injury, and eight percent died from what was labeled justifiable homicide (justifiable homicide is a term utilized when an officer or guard kills an arrested subject). The remainder died from what police call natural causes.
Of the cases reported, sixty eight percent were deaths in prison; sixteen percent were deaths that occurred while the arrest was being made; and sixteen percent died in county or municipal jail. In regards to race, deaths of whites constituted forty-two percent, blacks thirty percent and Latinos sixteen percent.
Texas averaged over 623 deaths per day over the ten-year period. The number of in-custody deaths peaked in 2015, when there were 683 deaths. The number of pre-booking deaths – meaning between the time the person is arrested and when they are checked into jail – rose by 84%.
In 2005 there were significantly less, coming in at 83. In 2015, pre-booking deaths rose to 153. One of the more shocking statistics coming out of this study is that approximately 1900 people died while in police or jail custody, who had not yet been convicted of a crime.
The information was gathered through public information requests mainly from the Attorney General’s Office. The study was the result of cross referencing data from from police departments, hospitals and information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The data collected, closely mirrors data released by the Justice Department in 2007.
The DOJ conducted its own data analysis of inmates who died while in police custody, or in the pre-booking phase. The study showed that nationally between 2003 and 2005, more than 2,000 suspects died after being arrested, but before being admitted to the jail. Not only do the raw numbers closely match; the racial breakdown of suspects who died in custody also holds steady.
The study found that of in-custody deaths, 44% were Caucasian, 32% were black and 20% were Hispanic. The close relationship between these figures paints a grim picture of the number of people who die while in police custody on a large scale. One concern over the statistics, is the misreporting of information resulting in bad data. Researchers believed that some of the deaths categorized as natural, may have been due to other causes that simply went under investigated.
The study was lead by Amanda Woog of the Texas Justice Initiative, a research institute of the University of Texas at Austin. The Institute hopes to better understand who is dying in Texas jails, prisons and in police custody so as to find solutions and reduce the number of in-custody deaths.
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