NORFOLK, Va. — Two deaths inside a Virginia jail prompted officials on Friday to release a list of 18 prisoners who died there since 2012.
Jail officials also gave media outlets 11 hours of security footage outside jail cell in which a mentally ill person died last year.
Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe told reporters he’s pushing for more transparency and improved operations in the wake of mounting scrutiny.
Virginia’s attorney general has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate, and McCabe said he would welcome such a probe. But he also noted that inmate deaths are not uncommon.
“People are going to die in jail,” he said, according to the Virginian-Pilot (http://bit.ly/2db6I62). “They’re sending most of their acute medical and mental health cases over here.”
McCabe estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the jail’s roughly 1,100 inmates are sick, and about half suffer from mental illness.
The list of inmates who’ve died since 2012 does not include their ages, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. But it shows causes of death ranging from internal bleeding to heart problems to a suicide. Some inmates died at a nearby hospital.
Among the dead is Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, a man with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He was arrested last year after stealing $5 worth of junk food and was ordered to a mental hospital.
Instead he went to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. Mitchell died a few months later of heart failure accompanied by severe weight loss. His family has filed a $60 million lawsuit accusing jail officials of physically abusing Mitchell and withholding food.
The jail has pushed back fiercely against the claims, denying that employees mistreated Mitchell and arguing that officers routinely checked on him and provided three meals daily.
Last month, an Associated Press reporter viewed some of the footage outside his cell before his death. It only shows the hours leading up to jail officials’ realization that something was wrong with Mitchell and their response after they found him dead.
The death of Henry Stewart, 60, also attracted attention. He died last month, two days after asking for emergency medical help. The cause of his death remains under investigation.
Jeffery Ian Ross, criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said gauging whether a jail adequately cares for inmates requires years of data on prisoner deaths and knowing how sick they were upon arrival.
He told The Associated Press that jails face a “phenomenal” challenge in dealing with inmate health considering their resources.
But he said that “some are better functioning than others.”