FARMINGTON (ABC4 Utah News) – Heather Miller, Rex Iverson and and Madison Jensen won’t be spending Thanksgiving with their families because they each died in a County Jail in Utah last year.
Utah leads the nation in jail deaths per capita with 24 in 2016, the highest total since 1999.
28 year old Miller died of blunt force trauma injuries in the Davis County Jail.
“I can’t imagine what she went through, I just can’t imagine,” her mother Cindy Farnham-Stella said in a phone interview with ABC4 Utah News.
Jensen was just 21 years old when she died of dehydration in the Duchesne County Jail.
“This girl had a drive that would never quit,” her father Jered Jensen said. “And we don’t have that no more. That’s what breaks our hearts.”
Senator Todd Weiler (R – Woods Cross) calls the rising death toll behind bars “very disturbing”, noting there were just 11 Utah jail deaths in 2012.
“A lot of people in county jails are awaiting trials so they haven’t been found guilty of anything,” Sen. Weiler said. “I think 80 percent of them have never been convicted of a crime. They’re just waiting for their trial and I don’t think their jail sentence should be a death sentence.”
After a series of deaths at the Davis County Jail the Davis County Sheriff’s Department updated their policies on suicide prevention and drug withdrawal but according to Sergeant Dee Ann Servey deaths here are not immediately reported to the state, only to the County Attorney.
Senator Weiler points out that most jail deaths are suicides and many are related to opioid addiction.
“A lot of these suicides, these deaths are related to people who are being forced to go through withdrawals from their addictions without any counseling, without any support, without any really preparation,” Sen. Weiler said . “I’m planning to run a bill requiring some more reporting responsibilities so I want to know what the county jails’ plans are to deal with someone who’s addicted to opioids and what prescription medications they’re refusing to administer like methadone.”
Sen. Weiler says his bill will also require more transparency in county jail standards and inspections.