Dying in prison





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Uploaded on Aug 5, 2010

Coroner Kenneth Holmes works to identify the cause of death when an inmate passes away under custody in Marin County, California.

After 12 years on the job, he finds dealing with the inmates' families "crushing", as they often ask him questions about the inmate's death that he can't answer. The Coroner's Office performs an autopsy on every person who dies in the county if the cause and matter of death is not clear.

Inmates, said Holmes, are treated just as any other person who dies in the county.

But the rules imposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sets inmates apart. For security reasons, families of sick inmates are not allowed to visit if the inmate is too ill to go to the visiting areas of the prison or if they were transported to an outside hospital.

This often leaves families with no chance to say goodbye, even if their relatives inside prison are sick in a hospital bed for months.

This lack of closure and information, says Holmes, makes the process of mourning harder on the inmates' families.

Photos by Karen McIntyre
Reporting by Isabella Cota
Production by McIntyre and Cota

Mt. Tamalpais Mortuary and Cemetery, San Rafael, California

This piece is part of the 2010 News21 project "Behind Bars: The California Convict Cycle", produced in UC Berkeley.


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