Through March, the number of Houston’s Harris County Jail prisoners who have died in custody is on pace to double the total for all of 2006, reports the Houston Chronicle. There were 11 deaths in the first quarter of this year, compared with 22 in 2006. Last year’s total was the highest since the same number was recorded in 2002. One prisoner’s family said “she kept trying to get medical treatment, trying to get them to help” before the woman died in January from complications from an apparent staph infection.
Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas said recently that “the sad fact is that not every death is preventable. We believe that we provide exemplary health care.” The number of deaths this year has the attention of the state agency that oversees jails. Eleven deaths in recent years involved infections and illnesses suggesting sanitation problems. In 10 cases, records suggested possible neglect by jail workers. In each of the past three years, the state jail commission found the jail not complying with standards, primarily for onditions related to crowding. An inspector concluded in 2005 that those conditions led to “safety” and “sanitation” issues.