Not Just Sandra Bland: Thousands Of Americans Are Dying In Jails

Jessica Renae Buxbaum

A new report by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday states that hundreds take their lives in jail every year, making it the top cause of death behind bars.

Sandra Bland was pulled over, wrongfully arrested and found hanging dead in her jail cell after spending three days in a Texas jail. An autopsy ruled Bland’s death a suicide, although her family has disputed the conclusion and has now filed a wrongful death lawsuit saying she should never have been arrested. Despite contrasting official reports and activists’ opinions, one thing is clear: American jails are driving individuals to suicide.

A new report by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday states that hundreds take their lives in jail every year, making it the top cause of death behind bars.

Suicide has been the leading cause of death in jail since 2000, with 4,134 inmates taking their lives and a 9 percent increase in that rate from 2012 to 2013. Yet while suicide is three times more common in jail than on the outside, it is drastically more common compared to state prisons, where the leading cause of death there is illness.

As the criminal justice site, The Marshall Project pointed out the “shock of confinement” is one reason as to why this epidemic of suicide is escalating. When individuals “are stripped of their job, housing, and basic sense of normalcy,” they lose their place in society and are seven times more likely to take their life even before their conviction.

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While this data is crucial in helping the jail system understand and confront mental illness in a stronger way, recent reports not only point to the dire need of better medical attention but also to the inherent biases of law enforcement when providing proper treatment.

Raynetta Turner was the sixth woman of color to die in police custody in July. Charged with shoplifting, the mother of eight told officers she was suffering from multiple health problems and was discharged to a hospital, but placed back in jail the following day. On July 27, she was found unresponsive in her jail cell and pronounced dead. Officials are still investigating her death.

A day after Bland’s death, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman was arrested for stealing a phone and according to authorities hung herself with a bed sheet.

Two other black women, Joyce Curnell and Ralkina Jones, also died in jail. Curnell was taken to a hospital before her booking for a medical issue and Jones was taken to a hospital during her confinement, but returned to jail after. And a Native American woman, 24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear, died in jail after officers ignored her pleas for medical assistance telling her to “quit faking” and to “knock it off.” They then allegedly dragged her into a cell where she died a short time later.

The epidemic of deaths in jail point to law enforcement’s lack of treatment and appropriate handling of health-related problems, whether that be physical or mental, of their inmates, and their clear biases when dealing with women of color. This common string of deaths this past month imply that police do not take seriously the concerns of women of color’s health and mental state, instead shrugging it off as either fake or exaggerated.

Too often women are routinely ignored, with authorities — be it the medical professionals or law enforcement — ignorantly writing off women’s concerns as typical for the gender, considering us too emotional or physically needy anyway. And women of color are even further subjected to this sexism that is then heightened by racism. Even more though, while these deaths are shrewdly dismissed as suicide in a clear attempt to push the issue under the rug, like in the cases of Bland and Chapman, the real question is why is this violent trend such a common occurrence and why is nothing being done?

Why are black women dying in jails? Why is it always suicide? Why do they suddenly have health issues? 5 in less than 2 weeks… O
— Feminine Mystique (@SisterMaryyy) July 30, 2015

Read more: Was Sandra Bland Already Dead In Her Mugshot?


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