INMATE DEATHS CONTINUE TO DECLINE
HOUSTON – Harris County Jail inmate deaths continue to decline, with 2010 bringing one of the lowest numbers in a decade.
Nine inmates in custody of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) died in hospitals in 2010 and two died in jail. The list below shows how the total of 11 compares to the total in previous years.
“Every inmate death is its own tragedy and every inmate death is investigated. While sometimes it may be impossible to do, we will continue to work hard to prevent any inmate death from occurring,” said Sheriff Adrian Garcia. “Of the 140,000 or so inmates we book into the jail every year, many arrive with serious illnesses that have not been treated thoroughly outside the jail,” he said. “A few inmates come to us with terminal illnesses.”
Sheriff Garcia credited jail medical director Dr. Michael Seale, a gubernatorial appointee to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and Major Mike Smith, commander of the HCSO Detention Bureau, and their staff for making sure that the jail not only meets the constitutional standards for inmate treatment but also provides responsible measures to prevent serious illness.
“We are relieved that the numbers have declined and we hope that part of the reason for the change is the vigilance and concern we have exercised. It is a testament to the difficult and complicated responsibilities that our detention staff has and deals with on a daily basis. I commend my detention officers for their dedication under some of the most difficult conditions. They are understaffed and overworked but they show up for work every day to do an incredible job.”
The HCSO has the authority to transfer inmates to selected hospitals when necessary, where they remain under guard. The jail’s extensive medical facilities provide care for most acute conditions. Judges have the sole authority for releasing inmates from the sheriff’s custody for any reason having to do with their medical conditions.
In mid-2009 the U.S. Justice Department stated in a letter to county officials that, based on site visits that ended in August 2008, there was an alarming rate of inmate deaths in the jail. However the letter did not calculate the rate or compare it to statistics from other mega-jails around the nation.
Harris County denies the DOJ’s allegation that medical conditions were substandard. Sheriff Garcia took office in January 2009, after DOJ officials conducted their on-site investigations.
“Deaths in custody”
*All of the above statistics were reported to the state Jail Commission. Starting with 2010, the state Attorney General’s Office required reporting of the additional deaths of suspects encountered “in the field.” These include so-called “deputy-involved shootings.”