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Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Dying in jail, still waiting for trial

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Dying in jail, still waiting for trial
Dying in jail, still waiting for trial

A Reuters investigation found nearly 300 inmates died in U.S. jails after languishing behind bars at least a year or more, never convicted of their charges.

Linda So reports.

Chinedu Efoagui had never been in trouble with the law.

But in February 2016, he got into a bizarre confrontation with police at a traffic stop.

Family and friends believe he was suffering a mental breakdown when he was arrested.

The 38-year-old software programmer from Nigeria was booked at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Georgia.

Bond was set at $15,000 - a sum he could not pay.

As he awaited trial, Efoagui's health deteriorated.

He wrote dozens of letters begging for his freedom.

That day would never come.

Ewoma Oteri, Efoagui's friend, remembers his deperate pleas for help.

"He just wanted to get out.

You may have seen some of his letters.

He just, he just wanted to get out and it's that feeling of helplessness right, he must have felt incredibly helpless.

Efoagui was one of nearly 300 people across the U.S. since 2008 - identified by Reuters - who died after languishing in local jails for at least a year - never convicted of their charges.

One reason they were stuck behind bars is America's bail system: It frees defendants with the means and locks away those without.

Efoagui was among those who couldn't afford to pay.

His attorney David West tried to get him out.

"The concept of swift justice just doesn't exist in America anymore.

It's a concept that's lost.

And now people who get stuck in jail because they can't make bond, or their family can't afford to get them out, or they simply don't come from money who have to rely on public defenders languish in our jails and fill it up with people who otherwise shouldn't be there." Efoagui died of a pulmonary embolism.

The treatable condition can be caused by limited movement, such as being in a confined space for long periods.

Independent health experts who reviewed Efoagui's medical records for Reuters said further medical testing could have saved him.

Nancy Fishman is a former project director at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York.

"People need to have money to get out.

And that means that we have jails full of poor people.

According to a federal report issued this year, America's incarcerated population topped 2.1 million people, more than any other country.

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