By Dana Liebelson & Ryan J. Reilly
Over the past year, there have been so many stories of violence and injustice in America, and even the most well-known deserve to be revisited. This is one: Last July, Sandra Bland was pulled over by a Texas state trooper for, he said, failing to signal when she changed lanes. After the 28-year-old questioned his instruction to put out her cigarette and refused to get out of the car, the trooper arrested her for assault of an officer. Bland didn’t have enough money for the $500 bail bondsman’s fee, and so she was held in jail. Within 65 hours of her arrest, she was dead. The coroner determined that she had hanged herself with a noose fashioned from a garbage bag.
What made Bland’s death so shocking—the reason that millions of people watched the dash-cam footage of her arrest or closely examined her mugshot—was the mystery at its heart. What had really happened inside the Waller County jail? If Bland had taken her own life, how could she have reached a state of irreversible despair so suddenly?
Deaths inside American jails frequently go unnoticed, sometimes even unrecorded. Unlike prisons, jails hold people for only short periods—about 21 days on average—and many of their inmates have not been convicted of a crime. Additionally, jails typically aren’t required to release public information about people who die within their walls. The federal government publishes only generalized data years after deaths occur, making it nearly impossible to identify the most dangerous facilities. So we attempted to fill the gap.
Huffington Post reporters collected the names of people who have died in jail since the day of Bland’s death: July 13, 2015. We scoured news reports and press releases, gathered official records, searched court dockets, filed public records requests, and contacted more than 100 agencies. When news stories omitted details such as the date of arrest or official cause of death, our reporters tried to obtain that information, either directly from the jail or from the office of the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy. Not every agency that we contacted responded, and our database remains incomplete. It will be updated as we receive outstanding record requests and information from the public.