Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Mysterious New Syndrome Discovered

by Dan Pens

The Santa Clara County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors decided to commission a report. They assembled a team of independent corrections specialists to study every aspect of the county jail's operation. The County Supervisors wanted to find out why jail detainees seemed to mysteriously die after "tussling" with guards.

The experts conducted their investigation and released a ground-breaking report. The most startling conclusion highlighted in the report is that jail detainees and arrested suspects who "inexplicably die" while in police custody may be victims of "Sudden In-Custody Death Syndrome." [We are not making this up!]

The report not only identified the syndrome, but urged that jail guards and medical staff be trained to recognize the "risk factors" of the syndrome. According to the report, prisoners at risk include 'those who have just engaged in a violent struggle, sometimes while resisting arrest; who do not respond to pepper spray or pain - compliance holds; have been handcuffed while lying in a prone position, especially face down; who are drunk or drugged, over 50 years old or overweight; and those who exhibit a period of silence."

"We are increasingly concerned about this issue," said John Hagar, an attorney who specializes in jail issues and a member of the team that wrote the report. "In-Custody Death Syndrome is slowly being recognized as a problem with specific risk factors to be watched for."

Of course, this "syndrome" is one which has long been recognized and understood by prisoners, who usually refer to it as "Sudden Torture and Fatal Beating Syndrome." Risk factors identified by prisoners over the years include guards who smile and say "It's time you learned a lesson, boy," while swinging batons at your head; guards taking a number and standing in line outside of a mop closet in which you are hog-tied, naked on the floor; guards who use racial epithets, and who may also have blood stains and bits of teeth and bone embedded in their jack-boots; and guards who exhibit periods of intense, violent rage.

Perhaps a bilateral commission composed of experts from both the corrections community and those who have experienced some corrections first-hand, could further study this mysterious syndrome and develop solutions that would allow prisoners to be tortured without actually dying in the process.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle 2/15/96

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login