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Since 2008, at least 306 people across the Northwest have died after being taken to a county jail. Until now, that number was unknown, in part because Oregon and Washington have not comprehensively tracked those deaths in county jails. If they did, they would find a crisis of rising death rates in overburdened jails that have been set up to fail the inmates they are tasked with keeping safe. Key findings: - Over the past 10 years, the rate of jail deaths has trended upward in Oregon and Washington. In 2008, county jails in Washington had a mortality rate of about 123 deaths for every 100,000 inmates. By 2017, that rate was 162. Jail population data for 2018 were not yet available at the time of publication, but reported deaths spiked that year. A conservative estimate puts the 2018 mortality rate closer to 200 deaths per 100,000 inmates. - In 2018, police shot and killed 39 people between Oregon and Washington, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. For that same year, our investigation found 39 deaths in Oregon and Washington county jails. - At least 70 percent of Northwest inmates who died in the past decade were awaiting trial at the time of their deaths, still considered innocent under the law. - More than 40 percent of deaths happened within an inmate’s first week in jail. A third of all inmates who died never made it past three days. - Suicide, by far the leading cause of jail deaths in the Pacific Northwest, accounted for nearly half of all cases with a known cause of death.
KING 5's reporting led to a new law in Washington state and a new task force targeting people who are prohibited from owning guns. The stories focused on gun laws that are supposed to keep firearms out of the hands of two classes of dangerous people: Those with criminal records, and those accused of domestic violence. Two separate series of investigative reports revealed that those laws were not enforced by the criminal justice system, and victims were paying for that with their lives.