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One day after the seventh inmate death this year was reported in San Diego County jails, community advocates urged the civilian board that oversees the Sheriff’s Department to do more to protect the men and women in custody.
Speakers at the county Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board meeting on Tuesday night said too many people are dying behind bars — claims that were validated by a new report released this week.
“This is a crisis,” said Yusef Miller of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition. “This is a crisis of safety, a crisis of disparity and we need to get behind this and look for immediate solutions.”
Miller and a host of other speakers were responding to the latest death in local jails and a new study that showed San Diego has the highest jail-mortality rate among California’s 12 largest counties.
“The families that we are supporting are piling up,” Miller told the review board. “And every time we get a new one, the families that are suffering are re-traumatized.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department identified the latest inmate to die in custody, Jerrill Lacy. He was 38 years old and the preliminary cause of death was deep venus thrombosis. His death was ruled natural.
The study released this week examined jails deaths in the 12 most populous California counties between 2010 and 2020.
Researchers from the firm Analytica Consulting said San Diego County has seen a high number of “excess deaths” over the 10-year study period compared to other counties.
“Excess deaths” were defined by the analysts as fatalities that exceeded the number of deaths that might be expected or estimated based on the average daily population of the county jails.
The analysis said 141 people died in San Diego County custody between 2010 and 2020, a rate that far exceeded what other California counties recorded in the same period.
“San Diego County is the only county with a statistically significant number of excess deaths,” the report said. “Most other counties have generally fewer total deaths than what is projected by their county mortality rates.”
The Analytica Consulting report also said that Blacks were overrepresented in the county jail population, with 15 percent of inmates being Black even though Black people represent about 5 percent of the countywide population.
However, the analysis found, White people are more likely to die in Sheriff’s Department custody. Whites make up 42 percent of the jail population but account for 54 percent of jail deaths, the study said.
The mortality findings mirrored the results of a state audit released in February, when the California State Auditor said conditions in San Diego County jails were so dangerous for inmates that new legislation was needed to fix the problems.
San Diego area lawmakers last month introduced a bill aimed at implementing some of the recommendations put forward by the state auditor. That bill is now making its way through the Legislature.
Activist Robin Sales of the Racial Justice Coalition said the latest report confirmed what previous studies already concluded: that San Diego County jail inmates are dying at far higher rates than those in other counties.
“San Diego County cannot ignore the problems that have been highlighted,” she told the review board. “The Board of Supervisors must consider that the Sheriff’s Department cannot police itself.
“The problem has been named. Now changes must be made,” Sales said.
The Analytica Consulting report concluded with recommendations for additional research going forward, a suggestion review board members said they planned to consider.
Researchers suggested that future studies examine when inmates are most vulnerable to the risk of death, how mental illness might influence in-custody deaths and how staffing might affect mortality rates, among other things.
This content was originally published here.