The death rate at Reno’s Washoe County jail has climbed precipitously since Sheriff Chuck Allen took office in 2015, reports the Reno Gazette-Journal. Only 10 inmates died between 2007 and 2014, all but two from natural causes. In the two years since Allen took office, 13 inmates have died in custody. The jail has seen its suicide rate triple. One woman died while detoxing. Another man had a baggie of methamphetamine burst in his digestive system nearly two weeks after he arrived at the jail.
The jail’s in-custody death rate — a calculation used to compare deaths across jails with varying populations — jumped from 83 per 100,000 in 2014 to 643 per 100,000 in 2015. It dipped to 573 per 100,000 in 2016. That’s five times the national average, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. “The people you are dealing with at the jail are people who have anti-social behavior, or have chronic alcoholism or have engaged in a crime. But those crimes, for the most part, don’t carry the death penalty,” said Cal Potter, a Las Vegas lawyer who has represented many inmates. The newspaper found that about the time the spike in deaths began to occur, the Sheriff’s Office switched medical contractors, awarding a no-bid $5.9 million annual contract to Alabama-based NaphCare. Suicide prevention training stopped due to staffing reductions, but it was reinstituted after the Reno Gazette-Journal began asking questions about the suicides. The jail’s medical director was terminated in May after an inmate overdosed on the methadone he was prescribed.