Death Sentence is a Traverse City Record-Eagle data reporting project examining in-custody deaths in Michigan’s local jails through the collection and analysis of 10 years of reports and investigative materials.
Thanks to generous support from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, Record-Eagle Editor Nathan Payne spent most of 2019 and the first months of 2020 filing Freedom of Information Act requests in all 83 Michigan counties. Thousands of pages of records, and the data gleaned from them, resulted in the most comprehensive public accounting of how and why people die in Michigan’s local lockup facilities.
Records collected and made public through our reporting process are a direct reflection of Michigan’s inconsistent, oft nonexistent oversight of local jails. In Michigan, no central authority investigates deaths in local jails, and local jail operators often produce no more than internal incident reports in response to in-custody deaths.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics collects voluntarily submitted data on in-custody deaths from local jails, but publicly releases only general statistics about deaths in each state. The DOJ has denied both a FOIA request and an administrative appeal from the Record-Eagle seeking the forms used to generate the agency’s data. The latest numbers released by the agency cover 2016, and do not include any county-by-county information.
The Record-Eagle's data and underlying public records are available on the newspaper's website searchable by county.
The stories published as part of Death Sentence are the product of a team of journalists including Payne, data journalist Kaye LaFond, and Record-Eagle reporters Patti Burgess, Brooke Kansier and Mardi Link. Throughout 2020, Record-Eagle reporters will compile and fact-check data, and report the trends and issues related to deaths in Michigan’s local jails.
We can’t expect policymakers to fix a problem they can’t quantify.
This Week's Circulars
age 79, of Traverse City, passed away peacefully at Munson Hospice House on Thursday, June 25, 2020. A full obituary with service details will be published in a later edition of the Record Eagle. The Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services is serving the family.
- Mystery plane makes repeated visits to TC airspace
- Spike of 17 new COVID-19 cases across northern Michigan
- Plans for sunken boat remain murky; state says salvage and Coast Guard says maybe not
- Two new COVID-19 cases in Grand Traverse County announced Friday; Michigan has third consecutive day of 300-plus new cases
- Slew of Traverse City businesses tagged as possible COVID-19 exposure sites
- TNR: A feral cat fix
- Ten new COVID-19 cases across northern Michigan since Friday
- Experts say support damage part of a bigger Line 5 structural problem
- A gaping need for substance abuse treatment beds
- Two TC companies among 50 Companies to Watch