Early one morning this summer, Nora Brown knocked on her door in White Mountain, a small community near Nome. A village public security officer was telling her that her 20-year-old daughter, Kitty Douglas, had died in prison. She was only there for six nights.
It was a shock—they had been on the phone recently, and Brown thought her daughter was safe at Highland Mountain Correctional Center after jumping between a youth shelter in Anchorage and homeless camps.
Douglas is the 15th youngest person to die in Alaska jails and prisons so far this year. Nine out of 15 were under the age of 40. The Alaska Department of Corrections did not record this many deaths in a single calendar year Since 2015.
It’s unclear what is behind this year’s high, and why seven people died within two weeks of being held. The department did not publish the causes of death except for James Patrick Wheeler, 91 years old. His death in July was linked to COVID-19.
Department of Corrections’ screening processAnd the Bookkeeping Policies And security practices mean there has to be a lot of documentation of what led to the other 14 deaths. But the department says it can’t reveal much. They are restricted by confidentiality policies and health privacy laws.
Family members and activists are sounding the alarm that these deaths are a crisis that needs special attention.
Brown said the VPSO who broke the news in White Mountain did not know specifically what had happened to her daughter, Kitty Douglas, but later found out through the State Medical Examiner that it was a suicide. I learned a few powers.
“This could have been avoided. Brown said.
According to Brown, her daughter thought she was having trouble with theft when she called from prison. Online court records do not list any charges against Kitty Douglas that would have led to her imprisonment at the time.
Brown said her daughter had some known mental issues, and she should have been closely monitored.
“I’d rather die than be in prison.” These were some of the things I expressed to some of the people here when they talked about prison. “That was her trigger idea. I would rather die than be in prison.”
Brown said she wants to file a wrongful death case against the state.
“I would like to see them do their job, follow their own guidelines, and do what they can, to the best of their ability,” Brown said. “Especially with people who know they have suicidal tendencies. …people they know who have mental illnesses and things.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said in an email that the department takes each case seriously, and is conducting its own internal investigation, which includes looking for trends or underlying issues.
a federal report Shows that diseases were historically the leading cause of death among Alaskan inmates, followed by suicide and then drug or alcohol intoxication.
The Corrections Department says it does not suspect manipulation of the death of Kitty Douglas, or anyone else this year.
That doesn’t absolve management responsibility, according to Megan Edge, director of the ACLU’s Alaska Prison Project in Alaska.
“No manipulation” does not mean that these people did not die at the hands of the regime. This is 15 people, some (some of them) not convicted of crimes, they were not sentenced.” “There are people who were convicted but not sentenced to death, they died at the hands of the regime.”
Edge said her organization has not taken any legal action against the state, but it is working with some families of inmates who have died this year and with community groups. She said letters sent to the department last week asking the state to keep evidence, such as prison video recordings, in anticipation of future litigation.
The organization is also calling on Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the deaths and other conditions of prisoners.
“It’s really important that this investigation is done by an independent body, not by the state investigating itself,” Edge said. And the results of the review are announced. This is how we ensure accountability and transparency.”
From there, she said, community leaders and policy makers can work on finding solutions.
Some family members, such as Nora Brown, learned the immediate cause of their loved one’s death by obtaining the records from the state medical examination office themselves. Close relatives are entitled to these reports, but they are usually not public.
The Department of Corrections spokesperson said that many inmates are entering the system with “pre-existing health and psychological problems and, in some cases, very complex.”
Edge said that confirmed why they weren’t in a prison cell.
“That’s why they should be treated by medical professionals,” she said. “That’s why they should be in the hospital, and that’s why they should get treatment. You know, the truth is that the Corrections Department is not staffed enough or well trained enough to sort this out.”
Edge said this serves as an indictment of the prison system, and a call for change after it to address contributing factors such as substance abuse, a lack of mental health care and the criminalization of poverty.
Many of the inmates who died were facing only misdemeanor charges. Court records show that a law firm serving as a public defender for municipal crimes in Anchorage represented many of them.
Kitty Douglas She is now home in White Mountain, where she was buried in July.
Usually around this time of year, Nora Brown said her daughter would have finished picking the berries for the season, smoke her silver salmon and put it away. She climbed trees to find rabbits, hummingbirds to hunt, and bears and moose to avoid.
“She was just climbing up the tree… which tree you look at. She would probably climb it right in front of you to show you she could,” Brown said. “She was really, really bad tomboy.”
Brown has no closure. With the number of female inmate deaths soaring this year, you wonder, why so many?
If you are in a crisis or know someone who has it, you can call 9-8-8 for professional, confidential support.
#Families #activists #wondering #people #died #Alaska #jails #prisons #year