While no one expects a stay in jail to be particularly comfortable, to die while serving a sentence of less than a year should be extremely rare. Snohomish County Jail, however, a facility of around 1,200 inmates, has seen eight jail deaths over the last three years. As the establishment is a county jail, sentences are short, typically spanning from several days to under one year. The high number of deaths in this facility are so concerning that an independent review is due to take place later this year.
Snohomish County Jail features a comprehensive medical unit, which includes a part time doctor, several full time nurses, a mental health professional, and other health services, to protect inmates who fall sick during their time incarcerated. However, all eight deaths are believed to have involved either insufficient or a lack of medical care.
Examples of the casualties at Snohomish County Jail are as follows:
Although it was known to jail staff that Michael Saffioti, 22, was prone to severe allergies, he died on the facilities of an allergic reaction. His family have now hired an attorney, but it is still unclear whether or not his death will be the subject of a lawsuit.
Elizabeth Lason, 27, complained to staff that she was suffering from stomach pains. She was not provided with adequate care and died when her chest filled with fluids. This has led to the filing of a $10 million lawsuit.
Just this month, Kathleen Swann-Deutsch, 51, died after arriving at the jail for a driving under the influence (DUI) offense when her blood alcohol content (BAC) was found to be at 0.31. The cause of death is yet to be released.
The other five deaths included overdoses, natural causes, and suicides.
The eight deaths at Snohomish County Jail can be better put into perspective when compared to nearby Pierce County Jail, which holds roughly the same number of inmates. Pierce County has experienced only four deaths in the same time period, half as many as Snohomish.
Jim Windeck, a former prison doctor, says that the number of deaths at Snohomish County do seem quite high. He admits that there may be some reasonable explanation, though it could just be a lack of care and continuity.
The review of the jail (Snohomish County Jail) is scheduled for September, and investigators hope to find if there is underlying problems or if it will be necessary to change the approach to health care at the facility. Captain Harry Parker, jail operations manager in Snohomish County, says he is very serious about reaching zero deaths and is looking forward to the independent review.