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Community calling on Justice Department to investigate Harris County Jail deaths

The number of jail deaths surpassed 20 in both 2021 and 2022. The last time that happened was in 2008.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Inmate deaths inside the Harris County jail facilities rose to more than 20 in both 2021 and 2022. In fact, there have been three inmate deaths so far this year, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

It’s a staggering amount that has members of the community calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate before there are more deaths. 

“Just be accountable," said Jaqueline Stain Barrett. "These people have people at home."

“This is a shame what’s taking place in this jail," community activist Quanell X said. 

Kevin Smith died in Harris County custody last month. The sheriff's office says it was due to a medical emergency, but his mother said she thinks something else happened. 

“This death right here will not go unsolved, Tracy Lee Woodson-Smith said. 

She said Kevin, who has a young daughter, was preparing to be released on Friday. She said the timing of his death is suspicious, considering no one even called her to tell her. 

"I got an inside call from social media stating that my son passed away," she said. "When I called and called, no one reached out to me."

Jacqueline Barrett’s husband, Gregory Barrett, was found unresponsive a day after complaining of illness. In 2021, he was found on the floor of an isolation cell with a gash on his forehand.

“It shouldn’t have happened," Jacqueline said. 'I shouldn’t have lost my heart."

Even former inmates are speaking out against what they call inhumane treatment. 

Tron Madise said he was retaliated against by a former jail staffer after he reported him. He said when the staff learned about the report, he transferred him to the "murder tank' where he was attacked. Madise said he screamed for help and the staff just stood around looking at him. 

“I can’t play with my kids like I want to," he said. "I'm still going through surgeries — I can’t do my job."

According to numbers compiled by KHOU 11 with data from TDCJ, the last time inmate deaths reached more than 20 was in 2006 and 2008.

KHOU reached out to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez for an interview regarding the allegations. He has not responded. 

There is a meeting scheduled this week with the sheriff and community members to discuss the incidents. 

Gerald Harris on social media: Facebook | Twitter

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