The Department of Justice is looking into the death of Larry Eugene Price, Jr, an Arkansas man who died of starvation after spending more than a year in jail pre-trial because he couldn’t afford his $1,000 bail, Newsweek reports.
When Price entered prison, he weighed 185 pounds; at the time of his death, according to a Jaunary lawsuit filed by his family, he weighed 90 pounds, and was suffering from a mental crisis and eating his own urine and feces.
“Because he couldn’t afford the $1,000 bail that would’ve allowed him to remain free as he awaited his day in court, Mr. Price spent the next year in jail, not convicted of any crime, just waiting,” the lawsuit reads. “For most of that year, despite his dire need of urgent psychiatric care, Mr. Price languished alone in solitary confinement—in a state of active psychosis—neglected by jail medical and custody staff.”
Turn Key Health Clinics, the medical care provider at the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center where Price was housed, responded in February that it didn’t have warning or responsibility that Price was at risk of serious injury. They also argued Price, who had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was aware of his medication regimen but refused to follow it.
Turn Key denied “any causal connection to Mr. Price’s death...(or) any knowledge...Mr. Price was ever at imminent risk of harm prior to the time of his medical emergency on August 29, 2021,” according to court documents.
The Department of Justice oversaw the Arkansas jail for over a decade, ending in 2017, after complaints from inmates and family members of preventable deaths, poor healthcare, and a lack of basic infection control that allowed tuberculosis to spread behind bars.
According to the DOJ, inmates were routinely charged out of their commissary accounts for vital medical care, including pregnancy tests, and to be release from suicide watch.
"In the more than 25 years since (the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) was enacted, we have never encountered a facility which charges for the release from suicide care," the DOJ said in its report about the facility.
Under federal law, prisons are supposed to report the number of in-custody deaths, but data is woefully incomplete.
“Simply put, the federal government does not know how many people die in U.S. jails and prisons each year,” according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice organisation.
Outside estimates suggest deaths spiked during the pandemic by nearly 50 per cent, according to a New York Times investigation.
Cash bail, in which those accused of crimes must pay a fee in order to be released from prison ahead of their trial, sometimes plays a role in these deaths.
In an infamous case from New York City, a Bronx teenager named Kalief Browder died by suicide in 2015, after spending years in the notorious Rikers Island prison, including nearly two years in solitary confinement, because he couldn’t raise the $3,000 necessary to bail himself out.