by Photo courtesy of Shane Harris

A local community activist announced results from a requested demographic and racial breakdown of San Diego County Jail deaths, finding Black and Latino people are dying at disproportionate rates. 

Rev. Shane Harris, the founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates activist group, cited data produced by the San Diego County Sheriff's department and the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), saying a lack of leadership and racial equity in the local criminal justice system likely contributed to these numbers.

Last month, the California State Auditor released a report that revealed 185 in-custody death from 2006 to 2020. 

According to the data Harris received from the Sheriff's Department; 97 of those deaths were White; 54 of those were Hispanic; 27 of those deaths identified as Black; five were Chinese, and Filipino or “other Asian;” one was Native American, and one was listed as “other".

The Black population in San Diego County accounts for approximately 5.5 percent of the general population, but data shows this population made up nearly 15 percent within 15 years. 

“It comes down to equity,” Harris said at a Thursday press conference. “If we don’t look at the numbers through the equity lens, we can’t get to the root of problems. We can’t advance policy without data.”

The CLERB, which oversees the County’s Sheriff's Department, also reported jail deaths that occurred in 2020 and 2021 that were not included in the state audit report. 

According to the CLERB, 31 people died in jails in the provided time frame, and of those, 14 identified as white, 12 as Latino, four identified as black, and one as “other”. 

“It is very clear that Blacks and Latinos are very challenged at getting a fair and speedy trial,” Harris said. “It is the lack of cultural competency in our criminal justice system and we must look at issues through a lens of cultural competency.” 

According to Harris, the Sheriff’s Department and the CLERB should rely on the same protocols in recording jail deaths. 

“No one should die before they get to see a judge,” Harris said. “No one should be sentenced to the death penalty because we have a Sheriff’s Department that doesn’t want to take responsibility.”

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