Jails and prisons in Utah may be forced to start reporting how many inmates die in custody every year.

The Senate voted 27-0 to pass SB205 on Wednesday and sent it to the House.

It follows a spike in deaths in county jails.

“I think we should be asking questions. Why are people dying in jail?” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the bill’s sponsor.

“Sometimes up to 80 percent of the population of county jails are filled with people who have not been convicted of a crime. They have been arrested and are awaiting trial, and yet they are dying,” he said.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on the number and causes of deaths in all county jails and state prisons after obtaining the information individually from every county. The newspaper also reported on the medical and mental health capacity in county jails. More than 416 people died in Utah jails since 2000 — and in 2014 the state had the nation’s highest rate of such in-custody deaths.

SB205 would require the counties and prisons to send that information each year to the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

They also would have to report their lists of allowed medications and plans for treating inmates who are addicted to opiates when they’re arrested.

Weiler said, “Some are forced to detox without any services or help.”

Withdrawal is one of several common dangers for inmates. Suicide is also by far the No. 1 known cause of death for inmates. Opiates and suicide are tied together, Weiler said previously.


Feb. 23: Noting Utah’s high inmate death rate, lawmakers want jails to report on in-custody deaths every year

By Taylor Anderson

County jails and the Utah Department of Corrections would have to report how many inmates die in custody each year under a bill on its way to the Senate floor.

SB205 follows a spike in Utah deaths in county jails, where many inmates haven’t been convicted of a crime and are in custody awaiting trial.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he came up with the proposal after reading news reports that detailed deaths of inmates, some of whom didn’t receive medication they were taking before they were incarcerated.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the number and causes of deaths in all county jails and state prisons after obtaining the information individually from every county. The newspaper also reported on the medical and mental health capacity in county jails. More than 416 people died in Utah jails since 2000 — and in 2014 the state had the nation’s highest rate of such in-custody deaths.

SB205 would require the counties and prisons to send that information each year to the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

They also would have to report their lists of allowed medications and plans for treating inmates who are addicted to opiates when they’re arrested.

Withdrawal is one of several common dangers for inmates. Suicide is also by far the No. 1 known cause of death for inmates. Opiates and suicide are tied together, Weiler said, so knowing what a jail’s plan is for inmates who are withdrawing from opiates could help both issues.

“I plan to come back next year based on what we get and see if we need to develop some statewide policies,” Weiler said.