Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
If I asked you to name one person killed by police in the United States, I’m sure you could tell me. You could probably tell me the city it happened in. You might even know the year. Some of you may even know the exact date. Some of you could name 2, 3, 4, even 10, maybe 20 people if you really thought about it.
But if I asked you that same question — if I asked you to name just one person who was killed in jail, or died in jail, or in police custody, could you name just one person other than Jeffrey Epstein? I tested that question out the past few days, and for 99 percent of people, they can’t name a single soul. That’s on purpose. Because guess what, a staggering 400 percent more people die in custody, behind bars, than they do out of custody. While about 3 people are killed by police every single day in this country, for a total of about 1,200 people per year — nearly 5,000 people a year die in America’s jails and prisons.
It’s a crisis. But it’s one that’s hard to effectively confront. Because unlike the streets, where we have body cameras and cell phones, the ugliness happening in America’s jails and prisons, with very few exceptions, is this nation’s dirty little secret. Today is the start of many conversations I hope we can have together about this – then we’ll begin our action steps.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
When it was announced a few weeks ago that Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide and took his own life, I understood the suspicion. He had just been on suicide watch. He was said to have had dangerous information on some of the most powerful people in the world. And he was in a federal lockup facility right in the middle of Manhattan, which was full of cameras, with regular checkups on the cells. And right away — the immediate determination by most people was that he was murdered.
But for those of us who study and document these systems for a living, it wasn’t a surprise at all. Listen, I’m wide open to the possibility that Epstein was murdered. I’m wide open to the possibility that he was told to kill himself. I’m also wide open to the possibility that he felt the burden of all of his crimes and decided to take his own life. But what I want you to understand is that in the jail where he died — just like every jail and prison in this nation — the people are horribly overworked and underpaid. I mean in all 50 states. I mean in every city and county in this nation. I’ve seen hundreds of cases where the supervising officers were supposed to check on cells every 15 minutes, but skipped out on their rounds for hours, sometimes days at a time. And I’ve seen that very thing happen over and over again, when somebody took their own life, but the guards were watching Netflix somewhere. I’ve seen it with kids. I’ve seen it with adults. I’ve seen with people on and off suicide watch. America’s jails and prisons are cold and brutal and push people to their brink.
I don’t know what happened to Jeffrey Epstein, and I don’t think we’ll ever know, but I do know this — the jail where he was in is badly mismanaged. I’ve heard from people inside of the jail.
But the bigger point I want you to understand is that every day, at least 12 people die per day in America’s jails in prisons. And here’s the thing — we basically just have to take their word for it when the authorities tell us that it was old age, or the flu, or natural causes, which I see every day, because I know these jails are not the slightest bit transparent.
Let me break it down (Break it down music).
Ken White, a criminal defense lawyer in California, responded to Epstein’s death by laying out Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison for The Atlantic. These stories make plain the reality that the actions of cruel, incompetent, and indifferent jailers regularly contribute to the loss of human life in jails all over America including: the dehydration death of Terrill Thomas in a Milwaukee jail after guards turned off his water for 7 days;the death of Darren Rainey at a South Florida prison after guards placed him in a scalding shower, from which he emerged looking like a “boiled lobster; and the death of Bryan Perry at the Clackamas County Jail in Oregon where guards joked and took cell phone video while he died of an overdose.
The 32 stories, though, were just the tip of the iceberg. Take the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland, Ohio. People detained there regularly endure torture, abuse and neglect. Shockingly, in the past 14 months alone, nine people sent to the Cuyahoga County Jail died there.
Torture: A 2018 widely-circulated video shows guards pepper-spraying Chantelle Glass, an already-restrained woman who had been incarcerated for failure to appear in traffic court.
Abuse: The jail engaged in the intentional and deliberate use of food as a punitive measure. Pregnant women have been forced to sleep on floors. Overcrowding at the jail has resulted in 2,420 people being held in a facility with a capacity of 1,765 people.
Neglect: Among the neglect faced by those at the jail are a lack of toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper; lockdowns lasting 27 hours straight; denial of necessary medications; and meals that fail to meet caloric intake standards and cost the county just $.0.64.
Among the people who died at CJJ are a veteran and two men who were jailed on low-level drug possession offenses:
Nicholas Colbert, a 36-year-old Army National Guard veteran, died by suicide in May 2019. He was being held in the jail on a $1,500 bond for a drug-possession charge.
Brendan Kiekisz, 27, died by suicide in December 2018. He was in jail “on suspicion of violating the terms of his court-ordered drug intervention program.”
Allan Martin Gomez Roman, 44, also died by suicide. Allan had been arrested on a months-old warrant for possession of less than five grams of cocaine. His bond was set at $1500; he could have been released for $150.
Joseph Arquillo can be seen on video being ignored by guards for two hours after he collapsed from an overdose, which ended his life.
In addition to the nine deaths, attempted suicides in the jail have tripled from 23 in 2016 to 69 in 2018.
Despite the dangerous and inhumane conditions at the jail, 34 children in Cuyahoga County have been transferred to the adult jail, without a written policy specifying how, when, and why children are sent there. Ohio law allows youth to be sent from a juvenile to an adult facility only if the transfer is in their best interest. These transfers are not.
The reasons judges gave for transferring children to the Cuyahoga County Jail, according to an ACLU review, included refusing to attend school, vandalism, and being disruptive. Yet children at the CCJ experience: education that falls short of legal standards; isolation for 27 hours at a time, during which they are denied human contact, recreation and showers; and food that fails to meet childrens’ increased caloric needs.
The Person who can do something: Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.
Through their bail policies, elected prosecutors play a critical role in determining how many people end up in jail, and for what reasons. Money bail makes wealth, not dangerousness, what determines whether someone awaits trial in jail or at home. Keeping people in jail simply because they’re poor is destabilizing to their families, and often jeopardizes their housing, health, and employment.
In Cuyahoga County, more than 61 percent of people held at CCJ are there for pretrial detention; Cuyahoga County Prosecutor O’Malley has said “I fully support non-cash bail for non-violent felony cases. When we do speak up, it’s when we feel it’s necessary to protect the safety of the community.” O’Malley has told community organizers that his prosecutors have been instructed to defer to the judge to set bond in non-violent cases, and that his office has no written policy.
Elected prosecutors around the country, however, have brought their communities greater safety and fairness through prosecutor-led bail reform in places including St. Louis, Dallas and Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner stopped seeking cash bail on 25 misdemeanor charges and numerous nonviolent felonies which make up more than 61% of all cases in the Philadelphia criminal justice system. A study revealed that the new policy did not result in increased failures to appear or increased crime.
If O’Malley’s office is only speaking up to increase bail, he can’t say that he fully supports non-cash bail for non-violent felonies.
If he supports non-cash bail for such cases, his prosecutors should ask for it. Silence isn’t support. When prosecutors are silent, judges set money bail, which many cannot afford. Those people, under O’Malley, are sent to a jail where people die.
- Call Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O’Malley at (216) 443-7800 and tell him to start actively opposing money bail and to stop sending people to the deadly Cuyahoga County Jail.
- Learn about the jail conditions in your community. Find out what your prosecutor has done to end money bail, how your local jails are being run, and how your money is being spent.
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Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon
Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis & Markeith Black
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg
Contains elements from:
“The Prodigal” by Justme