Population of Alameda County jails vs. rate of jail deaths, 2002-2018. Data: state of California

Counting jail deaths in California

My feature in this week’s East Bay Express provides an extensive recent history of allegations of misconduct in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail with a focus on in-custody deaths and continued lawsuits against the jail’s for-profit medical providers, currently California Forensic Medical Group.

There have been 35 deaths in jails run by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office since 2014. State Sen. Nancy Skinner said that number was “significant” as she called for a performance audit of the sheriff’s office.

It’s important to put these numbers in context:

Among the 17 California counties housing more than 1,000 inmates over the last five years, Alameda County had the fourth-highest rate of inmate deaths. Ten people died in 2014, eight in 2015, six each in 2016 and 2017, and four in 2018, with one so far this year. And while the number of deaths in the jails has gone down, so too has the jail’s population. There were 3,301 inmates in Alameda County jails in 2014, compared to just 2,581 in 2018.

The Most Dangerous Place in Alameda County,” East Bay Express

To expand on that, the following charts elaborate on which California jail systems have the highest rate of in-custody deaths, and how the number of in-custody deaths, and the population of the jails, has changed in Alameda County over the last 16 years:

In-custody deaths in large California jail systems 2014-2018

JurisdictionDeathsAverage populationDeaths per 1,000 inmates
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department231,15819.86
Kern County Sheriff’s Department342,28314.89
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department725,30913.56
Alameda County Sheriff’s Department342,76812.28
Fresno County Sheriff’s Department302,80610.69
Ventura County Sheriff’s Department161,58010.13
Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department121,4168.47
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department283,8087.35
San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department91,2327.31
Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department253,5517.04
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department11616,6496.97
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department355,3896.50
Orange County Sheriff’s Department375,9516.22
San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department81,3016.15
Tulare County Sheriff’s Department91,5595.77
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department61,0525.70
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department213,8555.45

In recent years, the number of deaths in Alameda County jails has declined. But so has the population of the jails. There were a total of 4,386 jail inmates in Alameda County in 2009, compared to 2,581 in 2018. So the rate of deaths has remained steady.

The vast majority of inmates are held in Santa Rita Jail, which had more than six times the number of inmates as Glenn Dyer Jail last year. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced in April that Glenn Dyer jail will close in June 2019 and all inmates will be held in Santa Rita.

Deaths in Alameda County jails 2002-2018

YearDeathsPopulation Santa Rita JailPopulation Glenn Dyer JailTotal jail populationDeaths per 1,000 inmates