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Archive for Tuesday, February 28, 2006

46 Kansas inmates died in past 18 months

February 28, 2006

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— Forty-six inmates have died in Kansas jails and prisons since a state law went into effect in July 2004 requiring the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to look into all in-custody deaths.

Twenty-eight of those deaths were from natural causes, half of which were either heart problems or cancer. Another 14 of the deaths were ruled suicides, KBI statistics show.

There have been no inmate homicides since the 2004 law went into effect requiring the KBI to monitor all inmate deaths. The most recent Kansas prison homicide was in August 2000.

The law came about partly through the urging of Topeka human rights activist Sonny Scroggins, who was concerned about deaths that were occurring at the Shawnee County jail.

"It seemed like we were having a death every other month," he said.

Scroggins said he had considered asking that grand juries be seated to investigate inmate deaths, but said he is satisfied that the KBI is keeping tabs.

"It's been a continuing problem, where people in government custody have come up dead - not just in the state of Kansas, but across the nation," he said. "On the other hand, I'm pleased that we have a system in place with checks and balances. It adds some credibility."

Still, Scroggins said he's concerned that many of those who died of natural causes might have been saved if they would have had better access to medical services.

Of the 28 natural deaths investigated in the last 18 months, 24 involved inmates who were 56 or younger, KBI records show.

Among the 14 suicides, 12 were in county jails and two were in prisons. Most of those deaths were caused by hanging.

In Sedgwick County, there were 26 suicide attempts at the county jail last year. Sheriff's Maj. Robert Hinshaw, who oversees the jail, said 14 video cameras have been installed at the facility since three people killed themselves there in 2004.

He said the Sedgwick County jail was built in way that makes it tough to commit suicide, but that doesn't help in every case.

"The construction is designed to make it as difficult as possible, but if someone is determined to kill himself, he can usually find a way," Hinshaw said.

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