A 33-year-old St. Joseph County Jail inmate, Joseph Valentine, died in his jail cell on October 24, according to the St. Joseph County Police Department. Though initial reports state Valentine suffered a “medical emergency episode,” the Indiana State Police are now investigating his death.

This was the third inmate death at the St. Joseph County Jail in 2021 alone. In April, 44-year-old Brian DeBeck died after a struggle with county police and 29-year-old William Blake Anderson died from undetermined causes.

Tragically, these deaths are not unusual occurrences; they’re just the most recent developments in what the Indianapolis Star called a “hidden epidemic” in our state’s jail system.

A Disturbing Trend in Indiana Jail Systems

In October, the Indianapolis Star published an investigation into this epidemic. As of October 8, reporters found that a total of 308 inmates have died in Indiana jails since 2010. That’s an average of one death every two weeks.

Most of these inmates were arrested for non-violent crimes and never saw their day in court. Some struggled with addiction, mental health issues, and medical issues.

Wagner Reese’s Stephen Wagner has represented the families of more than 30 men and women who have died in Indiana jails. He told the Indianapolis Star earlier this year that inmates are routinely “thrown into cells and are left to die.”

Jail inmates are dying from suicide, lack of medical care, lack of mental health care, and withdrawal symptoms. Wagner said that the rates of these deaths are shocking.

Poor Conditions Endanger Indiana’s Jail Population

The Star’s investigation found that “at least 69% of the deaths occurred in jails that were considered by the state to be either overcrowded or understaffed.”

From 2015-2018, the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) said that three-fourths of our state’s jails were understaffed, though the number of facilities classified as “understaffed” dropped dramatically over the next two years. This drop wasn’t because of staffing changes, but instead because the IDOC changed its criteria for what’s considered understaffed.

The nature of inmate deaths also speaks to the lack of adequate care and oversight provided in Indiana jails.

Forty-two percent of the deaths were suicides, which is 12% higher than the national average of suicide-related inmate deaths. Natural deaths resulted in 39% of inmate deaths, though doctors told The Star that many of these deaths could have been prevented with proper medical care.

Jail Inmates Have Rights That Must Be Protected

The U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and it protects all Americans, including those in jails. Courts have stated that jail conditions cannot pose an excessive risk to inmates, yet the numbers and news reports suggest our state’s jail system falls well short of that standard.

It’s worth repeating that most of the inmates dying in Indiana jails have not been found guilty of the charges leading to their incarceration. Even if someone is serving a sentence, they’re still protected by our laws.

As a firm that has successfully handled dozens of wrongful death cases involving Indiana jail detainees, we’ll continue to fight for the rights of these tragically vulnerable citizens.

If You Need Legal Help After Losing a Loved One, We’re Here to Help

If you or someone you know has lost a loved who died in an Indiana jail, don’t hesitate to speak to an Indiana wrongful death attorney to explore your options. The only way to fight the injustices and poor conditions in our system is to take legal action on behalf of the victims.

Attorney Stephen Wagner has years of experience handling these cases, and our firm can help you better understand your options in a free consultation. Contact our team today to get started.