We (Ryan and Tim) kept seeing press releases about people dying inside county jails across Indiana, so we tried to figure out why that was happening. Even though a lot of the people knew about a lot of problems, nobody knew just how widespread or deep they were. So we spent a few years investigating jails by filing more than 150 public records requests, interviewing more than 50 people and reading through thousands of pages of police reports, court records and jail inspection reports. What we discovered is a crisis that has been steadily growing worse over the last decade, and virtually every level of government shares in the blame. In this AMA, we hope to answer all kinds of questions related to jails and our investigations -- ranging from the relatively simple (what is the difference between a jail and a prison?) to the nuanced (how many jails are considered dangerous?). We are focused primarily on Indiana jails but can answer some broader questions about incarceration in the U.S., too.

Edit: We're signing off, but we're on Twitter (@ryanmartin, @starwatchtim) and all the other online places you typically bump into reporters. Thanks for the great questions today, we appreciate you.

Here are our staff pages: https://www.indystar.com/staff/2646529001/ryan-martin/ https://www.indystar.com/staff/2646264001/tim-evans/ And here is the landing page for our multipart investigative series: https://www.indystar.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2021/10/12/how-trip-to-indiana-county-jail-could-be-death-sentence/5483328001/

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/6867cgxgl3x71.png

Comments: 52 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

funbobbyfun63 karma


that a new person dies every two weeks.

Anyone else glad that the prison system has yet to perfect necromancy?

indy-star46 karma

Tim and I are just creating job security for our editors. -RYAN

catgrogers55 karma

One of the findings that stood out the most to me from your investigation was this --> Indiana lawmakers passed legislation that transferred 1000s of prison inmates to county jails. Then, the state quietly changed the criteria for when a jail is considered understaffed.

Is there no federal standard or checks/balances system that would prevent state authorities from doing this kind of thing? Or is this completely unregulated?

indy-star32 karma

There are some widely regarded “industry” guidelines (some vary based on the design of jails) but here in Indiana our state department of correction is charged with setting and enforcing standards. And, from what we could determine, that is a very subjective determination from a state agency that is about as opaque as it gets. One of our stories had a headline calling the state’s standards “effectively meaningless.”

Again, the only real accountability over these issues seems to come from civil lawsuits filed by families and advocacy groups such as the ACLU of Indiana, which have resulted in improvements and even new jail construction in some counties. The U.S. Department of Justice could also intervene if investigators found a federal civil rights violation. -TIM

kkoreto199124 karma

What sparked this interest in the jail system and what was listed as the "causes" for these poor people?

indy-star48 karma

Sometime around 2017 we noticed a growing number of individual reports about people dying in jails across the state, including some really egregious cases. But we quickly discovered no one appeared to be tracking these deaths or examining them in a comprehensive manner. So we set out to see what we could learn about how many people were dying in Indiana jails and why. People who took their own lives was the single leading manner of death, far above the national average for jails. (We’re going to respect the rules against discussion of suicide, so we don’t plan to get too detailed specifically on that part of our investigation.)

Otakusmurf19 karma

What was the most common cause of death? Were there any hot spots where deaths were more likely such as city/rural, county or first time arrest/repeat offender?

indy-star33 karma

When we started reporting, we thought we would discover some clear contrasts somewhere, like maybe rural jails have a tougher time than our more urban jails (or vice versa). But what we found is that the big problems that lead to deadly conditions are found in just about every jail in Indiana. We found 75 of Indiana's 92 jails had at least one death since 2010. It was no surprise that the bigger-city jails were responsible for more deaths overall, but several rural counties saw multiple deaths too. And, when compared against the sizes of jail populations, a rural county had the worst rate of them all.

funbobbyfun16 karma

Seriously though, the USA has a concept of "for profit" incarceration, that is foreign (literally) to me. Are the prisons that you studied under this model, and if so, do you think there's a relationship to conditions from this?

indy-star43 karma

Just for clarity: in Indiana there are federal prisons, state prisons and local jails. We focused on the jails, which are mostly full of people who were recently arrested and are not convicted of a crime. One out of the 92 jails is run by a for-profit company. That’s in Indianapolis, but the contract is ending in the next couple months.

Along the lines of your question, though: Almost every Indiana jail has a medical contract with one of two for-profit companies, who then make decisions on when someone gets to see a doctor, what type of medication they are allowed to take, etc. And someone who has a prescription outside of jail is not automatically allowed to bring that with them into jail. One other challenge is that Medicaid is cut off for someone the moment they walk into jail, which means the costs of their care become the responsibility of the county. We found several examples where profit motives and other cost considerations may have impacted the level of care provided to people who said they needed treatment. -RYAN

Chop1n11 karma

To what extent is anybody actually held responsible for such deaths? Do they continue because there's so little responsibility?

indy-star24 karma

We found that just about the only accountability in the deaths came via federal lawsuits filed by the families of the victims. And in those cases, it was primarily a county’s insurance provider that paid out settlements (typically from a few thousand dollars to a couple million). But we found almost no cases where anyone at the jail was criminally charged or otherwise held accountable, beyond a few workers who were fired or suspended. -TIM

InvisibleRainbow7 karma

Have any of the jurisdictions you've reported on shown any interest in engaging with your reporting and improving conditions (more than just PR responses)?

indy-star27 karma

One thing that surprised us was that this isn’t just a problem of “bad” sheriffs and jailers. Our reporting definitely found some sheriffs and officers who were dismissive or even hostile to a person’s medical concerns, and those examples were awful. Overall, though, we found many of the deaths were the result of systemic issues far beyond the control of local sheriffs. And, in fact, many sheriffs were extremely open about the challenges they face and their need for help from state officials with issues such as funding for actual, sustainable treatment for addiction and mental illness. Bottom line: Several sheriffs and jails are trying to do all they can, but have limited resources or training to address these broader social issues. -TIM

DerDirte7 karma

How many people in Indiana county jails have not been convicted of a crime (held on bail or remand)?

indy-star14 karma

Nationally, the Prison Policy Initiative said 74% of people held in jails have not been convicted of a crime. That was in 2020.

I don’t have the exact numbers for Indiana in front of me, but we’re in the process of analyzing that data for the next phase of our investigative series. Most people in Indiana’s jails are being held pretrial and have not been convicted of a crime. There are some exceptions, though. Most notably: people who are convicted of the lowest-level felonies in our state are then expected to serve their sentences in a local jail.

Overall, though, the Prison Policy Initiative’s numbers more or less line up with the data we’ve found so far in Indiana. Of the people who died in a county jail over the last 11 years, 75.9% were being held pretrial. They were not convicted of a crime. -RYAN

najing_ftw2 karma

Any input from the DOJ?

indy-star16 karma

Not yet, but the DOJ should examine some of the egregious cases we uncovered. One example: The death of a young father in Southern Indiana who was naked and strapped into a restraint chair and, while unable to resist or even move, shocked repeatedly with a Taser. A jail nurse is one of the people who used a Taser on the man. -TIM

shiznik6 karma

So a jail nurse murdered an inmate... got it. Wow that is worse than I was expecting for some reason.

indy-star17 karma

The man died of a drug overdose. But instead of taking him to the emergency room, the officers strapped him to the restraint chair and repeatedly stunned him with a Taser. No criminal charges have been filed.