In­mate deaths rise at county jails

Sher­iff be­lieves in­creased fo­cus due to Trump sup­port

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY M.D. KIT­TLE

MADI­SON, WIS. | While the main­stream me­dia has con­cen­trated its cov­er­age on in­mate deaths at the Mil­wau­kee County Jail run by Sher­iff David Clarke, there hasn’t been the same laser­like fo­cus on Wis­con­sin’s other county jails — where in­mate deaths and death rates are as high or higher.

Mil­wau­kee County’s out­spo­ken con­ser­va­tive sher­iff be­lieves the dis­parate treat­ment has ev­ery­thing to do with pol­i­tics and a Mil­wau­kee-area me­dia that loves to throw pub­lic re­la­tions punches at him.

The Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sentinel has pub­lished sev­eral sto­ries and opin­ion pieces on the four deaths that oc­curred over six months at the Mil­wau­kee County Jail, in­clud­ing three in­mates and a still­born baby.

Forty miles to the south of Mil­wau­kee County, in smaller Kenosha County, there have been nine in­mate sui­cides over the past four years at the two Sher­iff’s Depart­ment-run jails, a statis­tic con­firmed Wed­nes­day by Kenosha County Sher­iff David Beth. This year Kenosha County’s jails recorded three in­mate deaths, two of them sui­cides, ac­cord­ing to data from the Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Corrections.

Kenosha County’s jail pop­u­la­tion as of Wed­nes­day was at about 830 in­mates, in­clud­ing some 200 fed­eral pris­on­ers. The Mil­wau­kee County Jail, over­seen by the sher­iff, and the Mil­wau­kee County House of Corrections com­bine to house nearly three times more in­mates.

There was ex­ten­sive cov­er­age of the Nov. 2 sui­cide of Lu­cia Her­nan­dez-Al­varez, but that’s mainly be­cause she was ac­cused of killing her two chil­dren. In April Kenosha’s daily news­pa­per pub­lished a de­tailed story on the strain men­tally ill in­mates have put on jail staff.

Lt. Robert J. Croeker, who at the time served as Kenosha County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment Fa­cil­ity ad­min­is­tra­tor, told the Kenosha News that county jails con­tinue to be the emer­gency rooms of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, es­pe­cially pre­trial fa­cil­i­ties.

“The largest men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties na­tion­wide are the lo­cal county jails,” he told the news­pa­per.

No fin­ger-point­ing, no ac­cu­sa­tions. Just a story ex­plain­ing the grow­ing chal­lenges county jails face deal­ing with in­creas­ingly trou­bled in­mates.

There was very lit­tle of that kind of con­text in the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sentinel’s breath­less re­port­ing of the deaths at the Mil­wau­kee County Jail and its fol­low-up sto­ries on Mil­wau­kee County Board mem­bers — Sher­iff Clarke’s lib­eral po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies — de­mand­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

What has been buried in the cov­er­age is the fact that the three in­mates who died at the Mil­wau­kee County Jail this year were some very un­healthy peo­ple deal­ing with the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of drug abuse and se­ri­ous phys­i­cal ill­nesses, ac­cord­ing to au­top­sies ob­tained by Wis­con­sin Watch­dog.

There are more ques­tions sur­round­ing an in­ci­dent in which an in­mate gave birth to a still­born baby “without any jail or med­i­cal per­son­nel notic­ing she was in la­bor.”

“Two in­mates suf­fered from se­vere car­diac dis­ease, which be­came crit­i­cal when cou­pled with the ef­fects of hard-core drug us­age prior to their in­car­cer­a­tion, with their ex­ten­sive drug his­to­ries in­de­pen­dently noted in their death in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Sher­iff Clarke said. Statewide this year, there have been 20 in­mate deaths in Wis­con­sin’s jails, nine of those sui­cides, ac­cord­ing to Depart­ment of Corrections statis­tics.

The smaller Brown County Jail in Green Bay has ex­pe­ri­enced three in­mate deaths over the past two years; two were this year, both of those sui­cides. Ou­tagamie County’s corrections fa­cil­ity in Ap­ple­ton also has recorded three deaths over the pe­riod.

Dane and Wauke­sha county jails each have recorded three deaths since 2015. Lit­tle Mon­roe County, with an av­er­age in­mate pop­u­la­tion of 111, doc­u­mented two deaths over the pe­riod.

But those county jails are not led by con­ser­va­tive, out­spo­ken sher­iffs like Mr. Clarke, who has been highly crit­i­cal of the main­stream me­dia, lib­eral politi­cians and a na­tion­ally prom­i­nent sup­porter of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

“This has ev­ery­thing to do with pol­i­tics and my sup­port of Don­ald Trump,” he told Wis­con­sin Watch­dog. “These peo­ple are in­vested in bring­ing me down.”

Sher­iff Beth told Wis­con­sin Watch­dog that his Kenosha County jail is deal­ing with the same prob­lems found in Mil­wau­kee and just about every jail in the coun­try. He said it is nearly im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent all sui­cides in­side jail walls. Her­nan­dez-Al­varez, for in­stance, used a plas­tic com­mis­sary bag and a blan­ket to suf­fo­cate her­self. He said the jail has had peo­ple hang them­selves with bed­sheets while kneel­ing.

“The only way to stop them is to put ev­ery­one in a padded room and take all of their cloth­ing away, but they’d prob­a­bly still fig­ure out a way to do it,” Sher­iff Beth said.

● Watch­ is a project of the Franklin Cen­ter for Government & Pub­lic In­tegrity, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to the prin­ci­ples of trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity, and fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.


Mil­wau­kee County Sher­iff David Clarke Jr. be­lieves that his out­spo­ken sup­port of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has re­sulted in un­fair cov­er­age of the num­ber of sui­cide deaths of in­mates in his county jails, with a lo­cal me­dia that en­joys tak­ing shots at him.

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