INDIANAPOLIS -- New numbers obtained by Call 6 Investigates show the number of inmates dying in county jails in Indiana was down slightly in 2015 compared to 2014, however the numbers of deaths is still twice the state average.
20 people died in in-custody jail deaths in 2015, compared to 24 reported deaths in 2014, according to numbers submitted to the Indiana Department of Correction.
The inmates died from a variety of reasons, including suicide, alcohol abuse, drug use and natural causes.
“It is a good thing that the numbers are down, but we still have too many jail deaths in Indiana,” said Attorney Rich Waples, who represents two deceased jail inmates, Kendra Shaw and Tammy Rena Perez. “In my experience, most of these deaths are preventable, and are attributed to poor or non-existent medical care or poor correctional supervision."
In 2015, Marion County had the most deaths of any county jail, with six reported deaths—inmates Kenneth Beever, Michael Morris, Sylvester Camphor, Thomas Cook, Tilan Schikell, and Marvin Sharp.
Sharp, Morris, Beever, and Cook are all considered suicides.
Schikell’s death was due to natural causes related to cancer, and autopsy results are still pending on Camphor, according to Katie Carlson, spokesperson for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Records obtained by Call 6 Investigates show county jails spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer money on medical provider contracts for inmate care.
Marion County contracts with Correct Care Solutions for its medical services, records show.
In an announcement last month, Marion County Sheriff John Layton said he’s requested a five person review committee to examine the jail suicides that have occurred since 2010.
“Unfortunately, suicide is a serious risk in any jail,” said Layton in a statement issued last month. “The Committee shall assist in our efforts to meet the highest jail standards. The Marion County Jails are already the only jails in Indiana to meet the stringent standards of the American Correctional Association, ACA, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, NCCHC. Thus, the suicides are disturbing, unacceptable, and must be thoroughly assessed by outside experts.”
Stephen Luce, Executive Director of the Indiana Sheriff's Association sent us this statement, "Each year the Indiana Sheriff's Association (ISA) sponsors and provides a variety of jail management and technical training programs across the state that are both relevant and timely. The Indiana Jail Standards require each jail officer to receive 16 hours of continuing training and each jail commander to receive 24 hours of continuing education each year. This year, as in years past, the ISA will continue to work with state agencies that have an interest in county jail operations by including many of these agencies in our training conferences and programs."
Attorney Rich Waples filed suit against the Grant County Sheriff in Kendra Shaw’s 2014 death, and the lawsuit is still pending.
Call 6 Investigates obtained jailhouse videos showing Shaw having an asthma attack before her death.
Waples has also filed a tort claim in the October 1, 2015 Morgan County death of Tammy Rena Perez alleging the jail and its medical provider failed to provide Perez adequate medical care despite her withdrawal from heroin.
New jail officers are supposed to receive 40 hours of certified training within their first year, which includes suicide prevention and mental health training.
IDOC tracks jail deaths, and when asked, will review the investigative procedures at the jail.
The average is eight to 12 in-custody deaths per year, according to IDOC.
The problem is not just confined to Indiana. A U.S. Department of Justice report from 2015 showed an increase in the number of jail and prison deaths, with suicide as the leading cause.