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The Texas way of death

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The prison system in Texas is rife with people being held in pretrial detention dying:

As part of a months-long investigation, the Texas Observer reviewed more than 400 Rangers investigations into jail deaths over the past decade. The records show that state police regularly document jail conditions that can lead to preventable deaths, such as jail staff ignoring people with deteriorating health, taking hours to respond to emergencies, violently restraining detainees in the middle of mental health crises, denying treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, providing Tylenol for liver failure, and mocking people who are moaning in pain. These documents, together with jail inspection reports, state data, court filings, and medical records, show how Texas’ patchwork regulatory system repeatedly fails to ensure safe conditions behind bars. Records from TCJS show that more than three dozen jails, including the one in Nueces County, routinely fail to meet minimum standards in state inspections and in some cases have cycled out of compliance for decades—yet rarely face consequences. 

The Observer identified dozens of cases in which the Rangers documented allegations of mistreatment including medical neglect, denial of medication, and abuse by jail staff. In at least 37 of the deaths reviewed by the Observer, the Rangers recorded evidence of jail staff actively dismissing signs of serious deterioration or cries for help. A man who later died of sepsis was accused of faking his pain and “just whining” by a jailer. In another instance, a nurse quipped that a man dying from a brain bleed was “just acting” and “should get an Oscar.”

The reports also show law enforcement taking people in medical distress—such as those who had been in a car accident, were tased by police, or were in the throes of a drug overdose—to jail instead of a hospital. For example, in roughly one-fourth of overdose deaths, the Rangers documented that medics cleared people for incarceration before they died. In at least 20 of the 173 deaths ruled to be from “natural causes,” the person had been hospitalized during incarceration, then sent back to jail—in some cases multiple times. 

Of the 122 suicides, more than half involved people with documented histories of suicide risk, such as those who had previously attempted suicide or been placed on suicide watch at the jail. About 16 percent of those who died by suicide were on suicide watch and yet had not been checked by guards for more than 30 minutes—the minimum standard for suicidal or at-risk people detained in Texas jails. In 14 of the suicide investigations, the Rangers found evidence that jailers had lied about how frequently they conducted cell checks. The reports also show how existing regulations fail to save lives: In December 2019, a woman was booked into the Travis County Jail on an assault charge, after being hospitalized for cutting her own throat during a fight with her boyfriend. Jailers put her on suicide watch and looked in her cell every half-hour as required but didn’t realize she had opened the stitches in her neck until they saw blood on the wall. 

I, for one, have every confidence that the PARTY OF LIFE that brought you SB8 will address these conditions immediately.

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