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Milwaukee and national activists raise concerns about in-custody deaths

Posted at 9:29 PM, Jul 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 23:37:09-04

On Sunday, 21-year-old Brieon Green died at the Milwaukee County jail within 90 minutes of arriving.

In February, 20-year-old Keishon Thomas died at Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) District Five 16 hours after being arrested.

In December of 2021, 27-year-old Quievonta Moffett died in-custody of MPD also within hours of being arrested.

Wanda Bertram, a communication specialist with the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), said research shows in-custody deaths are trending up across the country.

"The main thing we know about in-custody deaths, particularly in county-run jails, is that they are going up," Bertram said. "Suicides, intoxication deaths, accidents, homicides are all on the rise in jails. And they all happen relatively quickly."

In Thomas and Moffett's deaths, officials said drugs were involved. The sheriff's office reported that Green's death was an apparent Suicide. However, Green's family is asking for more transparency about what led up to his death and are seeking a second autopsy.

According to PPI, the medium time served before death by drug or alcohol intoxication is just one day. For suicide, the median time is just nine days. The most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals suicide is the single leading cause of death for people in jails, accounting for about 30% of deaths.

Dante Cottingham was recently released from prison. He now works with Ex-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO) and knows all too well the toll incarceration can take on someone's mental health.

"When you are first incarcerated, it's a shock. So if you already have mental health issues, it's going to compound that shock of being incarcerated... and for the most part i know that there is very little attention given to somebody's mental health," Cottingham said. "It's happening far too often. One is too many. It's time, I think, it's overdue for the Milwaukee County Jail and county jails all over the United States to take mental health more seriously."

Cottingham hopes to see a greater investment in training jail and prison staff to recognize and respond to mental health. Bertram says there also needs to be a greater investment in resources on the outside.

"Things like community-based treatment, healthcare, investing in people's well being," Bertram said.