‘29-year-olds don’t die for no reason’: A conflicting look at the number of inmate deaths in Alaska

‘29-year-olds don’t die for no reason’: A conflicting look at the number of inmate deaths in Alaska
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 3:04 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Angelena McCord had been at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center for five days.

McCord, a Tyonek resident, had suffered a seizure at Hiland and was taken to Alaska Regional Hospital on Sept. 22, when she was put on life support.

Eighteen days later, she was taken off life support and eventually died. She was 29 at the time of her death.

McCord had been facing a shoplifting charge, but that charge was dismissed and McCord was taken off life support on Oct. 10.

Because the charges were dropped, McCord’s death is not counted in the total number of people who have died in prison.

“29-year-olds don’t die for no reason,” said Megan Edge, the Prison Project Director for the ACLU of Alaska. “What happened to Ms. McCord that led her to having that medical emergency?”

The ACLU of Alaska says this isn’t the first time a prisoner, taken from a DOC facility for a medical emergency, has been released from custody shortly before they died in a hospital.

By the ACLU’s count, McCord’s death is the 11th this year.

The Department of Corrections says it’s eight.

Betsy Holley, a spokesperson with the DOC, says 41 inmates this year have been taken from DOC custody to a hospital for emergency care.

Holley said there have been five instances this year where charges were dropped after a prisoner went to the hospital.

Asked why DOC does not consider McCord’s death part of the total number of deaths within the department’s custody, Holley responded by saying, “Our policies dictate reporting deaths that occur within our institutional custody. Once an individual is released from our care, we no longer have access to information about their disposition.”

That includes two additional men: Lewis Jordan Jr., who was at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Knik, and Jimmy Singree, who was at Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai.

Both men later died in the hospital and neither of their deaths count toward the total number of deaths, despite the medical emergency itself happening within DOC custody.

“No one should die ‘death by incarceration,’” Edge said.

Edge says both men essentially left prisons in comas and were sent to hospitals where their charges were dropped and the men were taken off life support.

The DOC says 65% of the inmate population have a mental illness, and 75 people work as contractors providing mental health services statewide to a total prison population of nearly 4,500 people.

Asked if she thought anything nefarious was happening to keep DOC inmate death totals lower, Edge said she believes it is a legitimate question.

“I’m always skeptical,” Edge said. “You know, last year there was a record number of deaths that occurred inside of DOC custody. It brought a lot of pressure from the legislature from journalists from the community.”