Authorities are investigating the death of an inmate at the Douglas County Jail. The inmate’s name is currently being withheld pending notification of his/her family. County jails hold prisoners charged with serious offenses, not yet convicted, who can’t make bond. Some, like Douglas County, have a contract with the U.S. Marshal’s service to hold federal defendants who are denied bond prior to trial. They also hold prisoners who are serving sentences for misdemeanors. The Douglas County Jail is light years from the antiquated, over-crowded, volatile Denver County Jail. It is modern–almost futuristic looking–with a low-key atmosphere. The floors have color-coded lines painted on them directing you to various places. Of all our local jails (and our federal detention center) it provides the most pleasant, large, private rooms for clients and counsel to meet. I’m there fairly frequently, as a few of my federal clients this year and last have been detained there pending the completion of their court cases, which in multi-defendant, large scale conspiracy cases, can be a year or more.

County jails aren’t designed to hold people for a long period of time. There’s little for them to do and very few programs they can take. Segregation orders normally prevent them from being housed in the same unit as their friends. They become isolated and lonely. From what I’ve seen, the Douglas County Jail is adequately staffed. Still, jails can be dangerous, particularly if they house prisoners in the same case together, and one has agreed to cooperate with the police and testify against the other. From the scant informaton released so far, the deceased inmate could have taken his own life, been murdered by other inmates, or died of natural causes. Jails have the obligation to house those charged with a crime but they also have an obligation to ensure their safety and to provide adequate medical care. It’s too soon for accusations of negligence, but I’ll be following up to see how this could have happened.