More than 280 Texas county jail inmates died from illnesses while in custody over a four-and-a-half year period, says the Texas Tribune. The number of illness-related deaths in county jails comes close to the number of deaths in state penitentiaries – despite the fact that county lockups house half as many inmates and keep them for much shorter periods. Sheriffs note that jail illnesses often are exacerbated by drug and alcohol addiction; they say they are struggling to meet the health care needs of more inmates at a time when budgets are dwindling.
There are no Texas standards for health care in county jails, but criminal justice advocates and correctional facility experts say the large number of illness-related deaths show they are needed. “People aren't dying of old age in jails,” said Michele Deitch of the University of Texas at Austin. “Those numbers are more likely to be reflective of medical care concerns.” Data analyzed by the Tribune related to more than 1,500 deaths in law enforcement custody from January 2005 through September 2009. Gregg County, in rural East Texas, spends about $1 million a year of an annual public safety budget of about $15 million for eight medical staff and medication, health care equipment, and supplies.