In Colorado, the numbers of people dying in county jails is following a grisly national trend upward. In just 4 years, the rate of inmates dying on the premises of Colorado jails has more than doubled. Data by The Denver Post reveals that 11 inmates passed away in 2011 and in 2015 there were 24 deaths. As the number of deaths shot up, the overall jail population declined. Although some states require county jails to keep a record of the deaths that take place, Colorado is not one of them. As such, there is no statewide reporting system. The federal government instructs jails to report in-custody deaths; however, due to the lack of commitment by the state, whatever gets reported is unreliable as the number of counties that choose to report is inconsistent from year to year.

Despite holding inmates, jails have a responsibility to keep the public safe from inmates and keep inmates safe from each other and themselves. Oftentimes, the people who are held in jail are simply suspects for different crimes and have not been convicted of any criminal offense. A state prison is typically reserved for those who have been convicted of serious crimes and ordered to serve lengthy penalties. 

Since jail holds people suspected of crimes, there is always a chance that some of these suspects are completely innocent of the crimes for which they have been charged. Being held in public custody means that the public at large has a right to know that a surprising number of inmates are facing death in jail, and why.

Suspects for an Increasing Jail Death Rate

To find out just how many inmates die in jails and why the numbers skyrocketed in such a short period, open records requests were sent to 64 sheriffs in Colorado. Experts weighed in with a laundry list of possible culprits, including a heroin epidemic, more mentally ill inmates, insufficient deputy training, and state and federal laws that lack sufficient requirements to protect the incarcerated.

Without knowing why and how people die when they are incarcerated in county jails, it’s difficult to fix recurring problems with how inmates are treated when they are in custody. County sheriffs are responsible for jails and the inmates they house; the majority of inmates are waiting for their court hearings and have not been convicted. Mental health, addiction, and lack of healthcare are among the top issues cited by Colorado sheriffs for why inmates are more prone to death when they are first taken in. Jeff Goetz of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office states that everything that can be done is done to prevent inmates leaving jail in worse conditions than when they entered.

After some information surfaced, it was revealed that 117 people died in jails between January 2010 and June of 2016. Of those, 58 had died of medical or health issues and 48 by suicide. Of the remainder, some had undetermined causes of death or were killed by others while in custody. Across the US, the number of people dying in jails saw an 8% increase from 2013 to 2014, with over 1,000 inmates nationwide dying in 2014. Nationally, it is suicide that is the leading cause of death in jails. Although there are protocols for handling the issue of suicide, they still take place behind bars.

If you have been accused of a criminal offense in Golden, Colorado, do not hesitate to build a strong case for your defense. Criminal offenses such as theft, burglary, assault, or DUI are treated harshly by Colorado courts. Your entire future is at stake if you do not seek an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight on your behalf. When you need strong legal representation, turn to Miller Leonard of Golden Criminal Defense. Call 720-613-8783 for a complimentary and confidential consultation.


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