Columbia Legal Services, May 2019
A punitive and inequitable model that holds people who have not been convicted of any crime simply because they cannot afford bail; a model that condemns people fighting mental illness and cognitive disabilities to serve days, weeks, or months for behaviors associated with their disabilities; a model compounded by chronically inadequate health care both in the community and in jails; a model that only provides housing to people when they finally end up behind bars; and a model deeply infected with systemic racism and classism. We hope that we honor the people whose lives were lost by shining a light on the institutions and systems that led to their deaths.
. . .
Jail deaths are merely the most egregious examples of the systemic failures that injure thousands of people locked up in Washington every year. The misdirection of resources to Washington’s
jails and away from other more effective and humane, community-based alternatives has caused unnecessary suffering and death. In this report we review deaths in Washington jails in the hope of spurring reform to ensure that no person needlessly dies behind bars.
. . .
The gender, racial, and ethnic breakdown of people held in jail between 2007 to 2015
is set out in Figure 1. Men made up more than 85% of the jail population during that period. 22 People of color are also disproportionately represented in Washington’s jails. Black Washingtonians are just over 4% of the state population, but represent 16% of people incarcerated in our jails. Similarly, Native Americans make up less than 2% of the state population, but 4.5% of people in jail.