A Texas grand jury decided on Monday to not indict anyone for the mysterious jailhouse death of Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in her jail cell with a plastic bag wrapped around her neck in July. The controversy around Bland death prompted a national outcry, but she's just one of thousands of people who die in the custody of law enforcement agencies every year.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that about 4,000 people die each year while in a county jail or a state prison. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 4,309 people died while in custody, a 2 percent increase from 2011. In county jails, suicide is the most common cause of death—according to the BJS, 40 of every 100,000 inmates kill themselves while behind bars at a county jail. Bland's death has been ruled a suicide.
Bland, a successful 28-year-old black woman, was found unresponsive in her cell at the Waller County Jail on July 13, three days after she was arrested following an incident with a Texas Department of Public Safety officer who stopped her for a minor traffic violation. Authorities say Bland became combative with the officer and at one point kicked him. Bland was on the verge of starting a new job when she died.
The grand jury decision in the Bland case comes on the heels of the mistrial in one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, who also died while in the custody of law enforcement. As Vocative reported last week, convicting a law enforcement officer of a crime is uncommon. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 32 percent of law enforcement officers charged with crimes are convicted. For the general public, the conviction rate is about 68 percent.
Even when cops are convicted of crimes they are incarcerated at a much lower rate than everyone else. Those who are incarcerated after a conviction tend to do less time than the general public.
According to the data, law enforcement officials convicted of crimes are jailed about 36 percent of the time while the incarceration rate for the general public is 70 percent. Cops sentenced to time in jail or prison have an average sentence of 34.6 months compared to 49 months for the general public.
Darrell Jordan, one of five special prosecutors on the Bland case, said Monday that "the case is still open."
"The case is not over," he said. "That's what I'm stressing right now. The case is not over."
He said the grand jury will reconvene in January.
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