Louisiana has the highest percentage of its people behind bars. Five times more than Iran, thirteen times more than China and far more than any other state (although a few other states are vying for second place.) It’s bad here. But what is worse, inmates are dying in record numbers.
Most states can tell you exactly how many prisoners have died behind bars. Not Louisiana. Does the Bayou State have the highest death rate among inmates? We believe it does but without statistics, it is hard to tell.
The federal Bureau of Prisons knows how many inmates have died per prison and the Louisiana Department of Corrections can provide that data too for Angola, the state’s largest prison. But what about the many parish jails, lockups and private prisons? Who knows?
That may be changing.
Loyola University law school is constructing a statewide database to track inmate deaths. The Times-Picayune quotes a University Texas professor saying, “There’s really no more fundamental obligation that a prison or jail has than keeping the people inside alive. If there are people that are dying inside, we need to know that.”
The move comes as several local jails have been criticized after inmate deaths and suicides went unreported.
Death In Custody Reporting Act
Beginning in 2020, Congress attempted to require all jails and police departments to report the death of anyone in custody. The Death In Custody Reporting Act of 2000 mandates that states report every death of a person who “is in the process of arrest, is en route to be incarcerated, or is incarcerated at a municipal or county jail, State prison, or other local or State correctional facility.”
While the law sounds great, Congress provided no funding and there was no mechanism to force jails to comply. By 2014, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics simply gave up.
The high profile killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown was credited for helping Congress unanimously passing the Death In Custody Reporting Act of 2013. Once again, the bill lacked adequate funding.
Fast forward to 2021 and getting accurate information about deaths of persons in police custody or in our jails is still difficult – if not impossible – to calculate. For example, UCLA attempted to survey jails and prisons about COVID-19 deaths. With over 3000 different jurisdictions maintaining jails or detention facilities, the university could account for just 15 deaths. Experts say public reports indicate the coronavirus death toll is at least 605.
We are outraged that such little data is available. It’s not that requiring police agencies and jails to report deaths is that difficult.
Why is reporting so poor? We think there are two reasons.
First, society tends to simply forget about those who are in prison. Out of sight means out of mind. Until there is more outrage, authorities aren’t likely to change.
We also believe that many of the deaths at the hands of the police and in our jails are preventable. Darkness and secrecy hide many of these deaths from the public. Forcing jails and police departments to report deaths of persons in their custody is the first step in addressing problems in the way we police and house offenders.
To learn more about holding Louisiana prisons and parish jails accountable for inmate deaths and serious injury, visit our Louisiana jail death and injury information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online , by email [hidden email] or by phone at 866.836.4684
(Please note, we receive dozens of phone calls daily and will not accept collect calls from people not yet clients. Our practice is limited to in custody deaths and serious injuries. We do not consider inmate on inmate assault cases.)
Photo credit: Siviwe Kapteyn and Unspash.com]