Tracking COVID-19 inmate deaths in California proves challenging


Shared housing makes jails and prisons particularly inclined to the unfold of COVID-19.

CALIFORNIA, USA — COVID-19 circumstances in California prisons and jails started to dramatically surge late final 12 months, however there is no such thing as a method to get an correct image of the pandemic inside these amenities as a result of officers use totally different approaches to depend in-custody deaths tied to the coronavirus.

Utilizing public information, inewsource uncovered reporting errors and delays in Southern California and on the state stage in monitoring inmate deaths from the virus, together with in San Diego County. These points have led to some deaths going uncounted.

Undercounting COVID-19 deaths places these incarcerated and detention heart employees in danger as a result of it leaves an impression that jails and prisons are doing a greater job containing the virus than they really are, stated UCLA regulation professor Sharon Dolovich, who directs the college’s Jail Regulation and Coverage Program. And that, she stated, “inappropriately eases the stress” to make substantial security modifications.

The issue, in Dolovich’s view, is available in half from corrections officers wanting to cover points inside their amenities.

“That is an pressing public well being matter. … You possibly can’t successfully reply to a public coverage disaster if you end up retaining secrets and techniques from the individuals who have to plan,” she stated.

Dolovich, who runs a national inmate COVID-19 data tracker, believes coronavirus circumstances and deaths linked to jails and prisons are “dramatic undercounts.” The official numbers are “the ground however not anyplace close to the ceiling,” she stated.

Jails and prisons are public establishments run by public servants, Dolovich stated. “It’s their obligation to be as clear as potential,” she stated.

In a assessment of COVID-19 inmate deaths tied to San Diego County, inewsource discovered public officers have inconsistent monitoring requirements, which complicates handle the general public well being menace in state prisons and native jails.

● The San Diego County Sheriff’s Division has not but counted or reported to the state the primary recognized COVID-19 demise linked to one in every of its jails. Edel Loredo, 62, died Nov. 21 on the Sharp Chula Vista hospital. The county public well being division seems to incorporate him in its coronavirus totals, however the sheriff has not reported his demise to the state’s jail oversight board.

● Rodney Beasley, 49, was incarcerated at Chuckawalla Valley State Jail in Blythe earlier than dying on Sept. 14 at Tri-Metropolis Medical Middle in Oceanside. He seems to be uncounted by Riverside and San Diego counties however counted by the California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation because the sixtieth demise from the virus amongst jail inmates.

● Timothy Morales, 45, was incarcerated on the Chuckawalla jail earlier than dying Oct. 4 at Tri-Metropolis Medical Middle. Morales additionally seems to be uncounted by Riverside and San Diego counties however counted by the state. A demise matching his particulars is the 69th COVID-19 demise amongst jail inmates.

● Victor Dominguez, 68, was incarcerated at Chuckawalla earlier than dying Nov. 24 at Tri-Metropolis Medical Middle. Dominguez additionally seems to be uncounted by Riverside and San Diego counties however counted by the state. Jail inmate COVID-19 demise No. 85 matches his particulars.

inewsource found the inmate deaths by combing by lots of of pages of county health worker information and demise certificates, and reviewing authorities lists with no names however particulars resembling date of demise, age and race. There isn’t a method to know if all inmate deaths within the county have been counted, so there might be extra.

When deaths are usually not precisely and promptly captured and assigned to the place the place the sickness occurred, specialists who monitor inmate fatalities say it complicates illness administration, could cause assets to be misdirected, and places inmates, employees and the general public in danger.

Inmate demise numbers deceptive

In two counties – San Diego and Orange – officers have stated they depend COVID-19 inmate deaths by the residence of the decedent as listed on the particular person’s demise certificates, not the place the demise occurred.

“On the whole, an individual who dies in custody and has an out-of-county deal with listed on a demise certificates won’t be counted in COVID-19 demise totals supplied by the County,” San Diego County spokesperson Michael Workman stated in an e mail response to questions from inewsource.

Bryan Sykes, a criminology professor at UC Irvine who research prisoner mortality charges throughout the nation, referred to as it “deeply problematic” to depend inmate deaths based mostly on out-of-county dwelling addresses listed on demise certificates.

“Deaths ought to actually be recorded within the county during which they did not have sufficient well being provisions with the intention to stop that demise. And that is additionally the place the particular person greater than probably contracted it,” Sykes stated.

Obscuring these particulars creates a false sense of security for jail employees and inmates, he stated.

“You are inserting different people who find themselves in custody at larger threat of contracting the illness by an inadequacy of coverage and intervention,” Sykes stated.

The danger additionally extends to the bigger group, stated Naomi Sugie, one other UC Irvine criminology professor who’s engaged on a project to document the pandemic in California prisons.

Whereas many individuals assume that what occurs inside incarceration amenities would not have an effect on these exterior, that’s not the case, Sugie stated. Native economies in addition to the household and mates of inmates are impacted when virus circumstances and deaths improve, she stated.

“The fact is that these methods are so related to the material of our lives,” Sugie stated.

She emphasised the necessity for higher monitoring of COVID-19 circumstances and deaths inside California jails and prisons. “The truth that it is so obscure who has died from COVID is actually so stunning,” Sugie stated.

Some counties not capturing all inmate deaths

The state Division of Public Well being has a 2013 handbook that outlines how inmate demise certificates needs to be crammed out. It states that if an inmate has been incarcerated for a 12 months or extra, the deal with of the power needs to be listed as their place of residence.

However in apply, public information might comprise errors. Incarceration amenities are usually not all the time famous on demise certificates and errors can pop up elsewhere. In a single COVID-19 demise inewsource reviewed, the unsuitable jail location was listed in health worker information.

That’s what occurred to Chuckawalla inmate Beasley. Though incarcerated in Riverside County, his reason behind demise report described him as an inmate on the Richard J. Donovan state jail in Otay Mesa, the place he had not been held since 2013. Tri-Metropolis hospital supplied the unsuitable jail info, a supervisor within the Medical Examiner’s Workplace stated.

Some native jurisdictions do depend inmate deaths based mostly on the place they have been incarcerated, not the house addresses listed on demise certificates. Los Angeles County follows this strategy. A spokesperson for Lengthy Seashore, which retains its personal COVID-19 demise tally inside Los Angeles County, confirmed town follows the identical coverage.

As a result of not all jurisdictions depend deaths in the identical method, it might trigger issues.

Dying certificates are created within the county the place an individual dies. If that county by no means shares that info with the house county, the demise can go uncounted.

And the pandemic has challenged officers to handle and replace information a lot quicker than prior to now. In San Bernardino County, for instance, inmate deaths from the coronavirus are sometimes added to the county’s public demise depend listing inside eight weeks after the particular person died. In pre-pandemic occasions, it would take six months to confirm a demise, stated Diana Ibrahim, interim contact tracing program supervisor for the county’s public well being division.

“The general public desires to know what’s occurring, so we’re making an attempt to get the data out as shortly and as precisely as potential,” Ibrahim stated. “Nevertheless it does take time to get all the data and put the items collectively to find out whether or not or not it was really a COVID demise, and whether or not or not we’re in alignment with the state.”

Jail demise tracker doesn’t all the time match native information

inewsource discovered some situations the place state and county information on inmate deaths have been in battle.

In Riverside County, as of Jan. 15, a public well being spokesperson stated the county had six COVID-19 deaths at its three state prisons. However the California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation listed 11 deaths for a similar interval. County demise numbers and the state’s depend didn’t match at any of the three amenities: Chuckawalla, Ironwood State Jail in Blythe and the California Rehabilitation Middle in Norco.

Jose Arballo Jr., a Riverside County public well being spokesperson, dismissed questions concerning the discrepancies, saying the county was extraordinarily busy with the vaccine rollout and doubtless didn’t have anybody investigating the miscounts.

“I do not know why now we have the distinction,” Arballo stated. He acknowledged there have been points with the numbers from the state not matching Riverside County’s demise counts.

In San Bernardino County, public well being officers additionally supplied COVID-19 demise counts that didn’t match the state’s prison tracker. As of final week, one demise that the state counted on the California Establishment for Males in Chino couldn’t be accounted for by county public well being officers. In all, in response to state numbers, 27 inmates have died there of the virus.

In San Diego County, 16 virus-related inmate deaths have been recorded on the Donovan jail, in response to the state. As of Tuesday, the county was solely together with 9 in its demise whole, although a spokesman stated others could be added as soon as investigations are accomplished.

Instances at Donovan went from two to 713 within the first three weeks of December, after they peaked. Inmates there have instructed relations the prison lacks proper COVID-19 safety precautions like hand sanitizer.

Liz Gransee, a spokesperson for the California Correctional Well being Care Providers, which oversees the state jail tracker, wouldn’t reply questions from inewsource concerning the quantity variations apart from to say the information the state makes use of comes from affected person registries and the company’s digital well being information.

“How we monitor our information isn’t related to county information,” she stated in an e mail.

Statewide, the tracker exhibits 192 jail inmates have died of COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

On a ventilator and in jail custody

COVID-19 circumstances tied to the virus have surged in San Diego County jails since November.

The Sheriff’s Division experiences 36 energetic circumstances as of Monday, with greater than 1,100 county jail inmates having been contaminated because the pandemic began.

However greater than two months after the Nov. 21 demise of the primary recognized county jail inmate documented as dying from COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Division has but to announce or depend the fatality. The division additionally has but to report the demise to the state’s jail oversight board that gives the general public with the one statewide tracker of COVID-19 circumstances and deaths amongst county inmates.

Edel Loredo had been jailed on the county’s George Bailey Detention Middle in Otay Mesa earlier than being transferred to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Middle, the place he was hooked to a ventilator earlier than he died.

Primarily based on his date of demise, age and different identifiers, he seems to be No. 990 on the county’s COVID-19 death list, but the Sheriff’s Division experiences it has had zero inmate deaths from the virus. A sheriff’s spokesperson stated the delay in reporting the demise is as a result of investigators haven’t but acquired Loredo’s health worker’s report. That’s wanted to finish their investigation and for them to announce his demise, the spokesperson stated.

The Sheriff’s Division didn’t reply to a query asking what number of inmate deaths related to the virus are below investigation. Loredo’s daughter stated his household believes he wasn’t given correct medical remedy on the jail and was transferred to the hospital too late in his sickness.

Kathleen Howard, govt director of the Board of State and Community Corrections, which regulates jails in California, defended the Sheriff Division’s delay in reporting the demise to her company. Varied opinions can lavatory down the reporting time, she stated.

Due to that, the agency’s COVID-19 tracker for county jails doesn’t precisely mirror how the pandemic is affecting these amenities. As of mid-January, greater than a dozen counties throughout California weren’t submitting information on a weekly foundation.

Earlier this 12 months, felony justice advocates criticized the jail oversight board for failing to gather fundamental COVID-19 information. Following the general public stress, the board started publishing data in July.

The scrutiny got here after The Sacramento Bee and ProPublica published a yearlong investigation into harmful California jail situations and after Gov. Gavin Newsom called on the jail oversight board to improve its transparency.

“I feel all people’s doing the perfect they will do below tough circumstances,” Howard instructed inewsource, including that she believes correct COVID-19 monitoring of county inmates is in the end the duty of native public well being departments.

In Loredo’s case, his daughter bought the decision a couple of days earlier than Thanksgiving that he was dropping his COVID-19 struggle. Virgen Loredo, 34, rushed to the hospital to see her father.

San Diego Superior Courtroom information present her father has a felony report courting to 1983. That was a couple of years after he had immigrated to the US from Cuba, when he was in his 20s. When he contracted COVID-19, Loredo had been in jail after a July arrest on expenses of possessing and promoting methamphetamine. He was additionally going through drug and DUI expenses from a Could 2019 arrest.

His daughter is aware of he made errors. He had been out and in of sober homes and jails for many of her life. For a number of years he was homeless. However she additionally has brighter recollections: Her father’s love of music and enjoying the guitar. His upbeat persona.

When his daughter entered his hospital room, he regarded skinny and small — not the stocky constructed man she knew.

She stated goodbye to him whereas he laid in a hospital mattress, hooked as much as a ventilator with two guards close by — a reminder her father was nonetheless in custody. She was given half-hour with him.

“Seeing him like that, it did break my coronary heart,” she stated.

Her father died later that day, Nov. 21, shortly after 10 p.m.

inewsource is a nonprofit, independently funded newsroom that produces impactful investigative and accountability journalism in San Diego County. Learn more at


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