As part of a months-long investigation, “Locked Up and Left to Die,” reporters Michael Barajas and Sophie Novack reviewed more than 400 investigations by the Texas Rangers, the detective arm of the state police. “The records show that state police regularly document jail conditions that can lead to preventable deaths,” Barajas and Novack write. Records received from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) revealed that more than 1,100 people have died in jail custody over the last decade, the majority of whom were pre-trial detainees—people that had not been convicted of the charge they were facing. In 2020, TCJS reported 124 deaths, the highest count since the agency began tracking them in 2009.
The records from TCJS and the Texas Rangers, along with state data, court filings, and medical records reviewed by the Observer, “show how Texas’ patchwork regulatory system repeatedly fails to ensure safe conditions behind bars.” Dozens of Rangers reports document allegations of mistreatment, including medical neglect and abuse by jail staff. Some of the investigations show law enforcement taking individuals in medical distress to jail instead of a hospital. Other reports document evidence of jail staff lying about medical treatment or how frequently they conducted cell checks. TCJS state inspection reports also revealed that more than three dozen jails across Texas have routinely failed to meet minimum standards during inspections, and in some cases have cycled out of compliance for decades. Rarely do these facilities or their staff face any consequences.