As a record number of women go to jail in Texas, sheriffs increasingly must cope with a special class of inmates: women with minor criminal records but major mental-health and addiction problems, the Dallas Morning News reports. A federal survey found that almost a third of women in jails showed symptoms of serious psychological distress, even higher than the rate for men. When inmates die in jail, drugs are more commonly the cause for women than for men. At least 10 of the 86 female jail fatalities since 2011 were attributed to overdoses. At least another 10 women died from addiction-related problems that the state failed to track, finds a Morning News review of the cases, autopsies and medical records. Many of those drug-linked deaths were attributed to “natural causes.” A few were called accidents or suicides.
Dallas County jailers labeled a 33-year-old woman’s 2012 death a “justifiable homicide” in the state’s database, but the medical examiner ruled she died of a heroin overdose. The municipal lockup in Aransas Pass recorded a 27-year-old woman’s death in 2011 as “accidental injury to self,” but her autopsy revealed she died of a cocaine overdose. Jail is where people who are arrested await trial or serve time for low-level infractions like probation violations. Many are eligible to be released on bail but can’t afford to pay it. A higher percentage of women than men are jailed for substance-abuse incidents and don’t get adequate treatment in custody for addiction, said Ranjana Natarajan of the University of Texas Law Civil Rights Clinic, author of a 2016 study of mental illness and addiction-related deaths in jail.