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Loved One Dies in Jail? Here's What to Do

Having your loved one trapped in the confines of a dingy cell is a daunting thought indeed. But what’s even more overwhelming and unbearable is having to deal with the death of a loved one inside the said prison. Most prison deaths happen within the facility, or on the ambulance ride to the hospital. And once the cause of death and the circumstances surrounding it are reported, the authorities hold the right to keep the convict’s body for examination. Here are some important details about what to do when a loved one dies in jail.

Investigating the Circumstances of Death

Oftentimes the prison conditions or internal feuds can lead to untoward circumstances and fights within the jail facility. Also, mental health issues like anxiety and depression can trigger suicides, especially when the prisoner is kept in solitary confinement. Whatever the case may be, as a family member of the convict you can demand an investigation.

Be it a homicide, an act of violence, or an accident, you have the right to pursue the truth and even sue the authorities if they’re proved guilty. Moreover, if the death was due to natural reasons or a medical condition, you can ask for an autopsy and also inquire about the kind of treatment that was given to him/her. 

Prison or Jail?

One of the first things you should do is to contact a lawyer and demand for a “do not destroy” warrant to safeguard the remains and the body of the convict. Most people assume that the term prison and jail are interchangeable and while they are in layman’s usage, the legal lingo creates a clear difference between the two establishments.

A prison is for criminals who are found guilty of felonies, murder and other serious offenses and are sentenced to a year or more of confinement. Jails or detention center cater to the convicts who are yet to be trialed. Jails are also known as correction homes which house the minor offenders.

Also, if your loved one is in a prison, it is important to find out whether it falls under the state or the federal. You can check up on the prison conditions and other details of the prisoner’s sentence on Inmates101, a website that keeps track of all the convicts within the US.

Signs of Abuse

Prisoners are often kept in severe conditions and have to face all sorts of atrocities at the hands of the authorities and prison staff. Signs of physical and mental abuse, over the years, often lead to fatal consequences. Some examples of excessive force can be the use of tasers, using restraint chairs, electric shock, chemical munitions, or physically suffocating the prisoner using rope or other forms of restraints. Internal power politics of the prison facility can also lead to fights and breakouts, often leading to gang wars, planned attacks, and even homicides.

Claiming the Remains

After you have hired a lawyer, the next thing would be to file for an application to claim the body and the remains of your loved one. chances are, if you are listed as next of kin, the prison authorities would contact you about this. You can claim the body and arrange for a burial or funeral or have the body cremated and receive the remains afterward. Whatever you choose to do, you have to pay the prison facility some money to stake a claim on the remains. The unclaimed or anonymous bodies are disposed of off as the state deems fit.

Seeking Justice

If you find the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s to be suspicious, ask for an investigation. Also, get a lawyer and demand for an autopsy ASAP. Also, apply for a “Do not destroy” letter to the concerned authorities so that the camera footage, photos, and other evidence are not destroyed by the prison staff. Acting on your legal rights as quickly as possible is the only way to preserve justice.

The Troubles Involved

Digging through the prison records and demanding for a proper investigation is not always a cakewalk. In most cases, the prison authorities will be uncooperative and try to keep the evidence (if any) of any foul play under the rags. You should be persistent and informed enough to know your rights and how to exercise them.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with death, be it in or outside the jail, is a tough task. And the thought of a loved one suffering in an isolated cell denied the everyday comforts and presence of family adds on to the frustration and angst. It is an uphill battle to fight against the prison authorities and retrieve the rights to the body and burial rights of the convict. Here, we have discussed the legal aspects of the course of action that one should undertake if someone they know has perished in prison.

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