Fox Files: Jails, prisons hiding numbers on inmate overdoses

ST. LOUIS – Area jails and prisons appear to be hiding the number of inmate drug overdoses and those in power say they’re just trying to protect prisoners’ rights.

At a time when police departments and hospitals are trying to get your attention regarding the drug problem, jails and prisons are trying to keep it quiet.

September 7, 2018: a flurry of activity at the Menard Corrections Center in Chester, Illinois. Dozens of officers, including investigators with the Illinois State Police, were responding to three dead inmates. At the time, officials at the prison told our news crew the response was a secret and ordered us to leave the public roadside.

Almost seven months later, the state of Illinois says it’s still a secret how three people died. Because they need to protect the inmates’ privacy.

“If there’s one institution that does not want to be transparent, it’s the jails and the jail system,” said attorney James Schottel.

Schottel recently learned a former high school classmate died of a fentanyl overdose in a Missouri prison.

“People are punished by being incarcerated,” he said. “They shouldn’t be punished by given access to drugs or being shot up in drugs or whoever is participating in it.”

On February 13 at the St. Louis Justice Center, the St. Louis Fire Department responded to four reported drug overdoses at 3:30 a.m. But when Fox 2 News asked city hall for broader numbers and other examples of overdoses while in custody, officials said they couldn’t tell us, claiming it would violate the rights of prisoners.

“If you’re just asking for general numbers then they’re basically stonewalling with you and not complying by the law,” Schottel said.

Why would jails and prisons do that?

“Probably because there’s information they don’t want to get out – that there’s probably more deaths from drugs in those jails and they don’t want to give that information out,” Schottel said.

However, not all jails and prisons take the same secretive approach.

In January, Franklin County put out a news release about a cluster of heroin overdoses there, even describing how another inmate smuggled the drug into the facility through a body cavity.

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