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Records: 7 Utah jail deaths in 2017, down from 25 in 2016

By The Associated Press | Posted - Apr 17th, 2018 @ 9:34am

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OGDEN (AP) — Seven people died at county jails in Utah last year, down from a record 25 the year before, although about one-third of counties did not respond to requests for information on deaths in 2017, the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden reported.

The Standard-Examiner last year requested 2016's jail death records from Utah's 29 counties and learned 23 deaths were initially reported. Two more deaths from Weber and Davis counties were not counted at first because the inmates died later at hospitals, officials said.

A similar survey for 2017 deaths yielded responses from 20 counties. Nine others did not respond to emailed and mailed record requests from the Standard-Examiner.

Salt Lake County led the state with four jail deaths in 2017, the Standard-Examiner reported. In 2016, Salt Lake had five.

Weber, Davis, and San Juan counties reported one jail death each last year. Davis had six deaths in 2016.

"We are hopeful that there have been some improvements" in jail operations, said Leah Farrell, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which has been pushing jails toward more openness.

Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said his office has updated policies, shifted personnel and trained more people in emergency medicine.

The Utah Legislature in March passed a law requiring jails and state prisons to file annual reports of jail deaths. The bill closed a loophole that had allowed jails to avoid reporting inmates' hospital deaths, and instructed jails to detail programs they have to deal with inmates addicted to opioids.

The State Records Committee on Thursday voted down an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Disability Law Center that challenged Davis County's refusal to release its jail standards and audit results, Farrell said. The Davis jail failed a state audit in 2016 but the county and state refused to reveal details.

Farrell said the county's insistence that revealing the jail standards and audit results would be a copyright violation "is a sidestep, a way to keep that information from the public."

"Audits and standards that a public institution uses should be made public," Farrell said. "They're held in this kind of black-box way that can't be how public institutions are run."

Efforts to contact Blake Hamilton, an attorney who represented Davis County in the records case, were not immediately successful Friday.

Farrell said the civil liberties groups are considering whether to appeal the committee's decision to state district court.

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