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Texas County has High Number of In-Custody Deaths

Between 2005 and October 2014, 91 prisoners from Lubbock County, Texas, died in custody. This included 61 who died while imprisoned in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), 16 in Lubbock Police Department custody, 12 in the custody of the Lubbock County Sheriff's Department and 2 who died in Texas Department of Public Safety custody.

Since the passage of the federal Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000, the states have been required to track and report in-custody deaths, which are defined as any death of a person who is in the process of being arrested, is en route or is incarcerated at any municipal or county jail, state prison, or state correctional facility.

According to the Texas Attorney General's Custodial Deaths report, from 2005 through October 2014, there were 3,744 custodial deaths in Texas. These include 1,819 deaths in TDCJ facilities. Other jurisdictions with notable numbers of custodial deaths in that time period include the Houston Police Department (175 deaths), the Harris County Sheriff's Office (154 deaths), the San Antonio Police Department (110 deaths), the Dallas Police Department (102 deaths), the Dallas County Sheriff's Department (83 deaths), the Bexar County Sheriff's Department (65 deaths), the Texas Department of Public Safety (57 deaths) and the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department (34 deaths).

Prison reform advocates link the high number of custodial deaths to several factors, including understaffing and budget cuts which lead to understaffing and reduced medical care.

"Most of the really horrifying things happen because they basically lock people up and throw away the key, and not providing basic medical help," according to prisoners' rights attorney Brian McGivern, who works with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

McGivern noted that the large numbers of asthmatic prisoners who die in custody because prison or jail staff allow their inhaler prescriptions to run out are a stunning example of easily preventable custodial deaths. The most well-known case of a such an asthma-related death was Timothy Cole, who died in prison after serving years for a Lubbock rape he did not commit. He became the first person in Texas to be exonerated after death. His case also led to some reform of the compensation laws for the wrongly convicted.


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