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Charlotte detainee dies in custody days before prison reform proposal

by Ezekiel J. Walker
Charlotte detainee dies in custody days before prison reform proposal
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Francine Laney was housed in a medical pod at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina when she was found to be in medical distress at 6:55 p.m. on March 2. Laney died 10 minutes later.

According to the Charlotte Observer, in the hour before Francine Laney’s death last month, “Mecklenburg County jailers failed to adequately observe her, a vital safety requirement that the facility has repeatedly violated throughout the past year, a new state report shows.”

Prison Reform in Charlotte comes too late for Laney and others

On March 2, Laney, 31, became the fourth Mecklenburg inmate to die in the uptown detention center since May 2021. In fact, Laney died only days before a state deadline for the Sheriff’s Office to submit corrections for previously recorded infractions, including its failure to monitor its inmates adequately.

Under state regulations, the twice-an-hour viewings of each inmate must be no more than 40 minutes apart. Wood’s report does not specify how much time elapsed between the observations of Laney.

The sheriff’s office said it has already begun work on a separate plan of correction for the violations found in March, which will be submitted to the state by April 27. It declined further comment, citing the ongoing probe into Laney’s death by the State Bureau of Investigation.

What happened to Francine Laney?

Jailers appear to have properly observed her between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. But they made just one visit over multiple hours during the night of March 1 and through the early morning of March 2, the report shows.

Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, describes the failure to monitor Laney as a major safety violation. That they occurred in a jail medical unit makes the infractions even more disturbing, she says.

While Charlotte attempts to correct its long-acknowledged mistakes, Oklahoma County jail has had at least 13 deaths in the last year, and Louisville KY has had eight themselves, reflecting a national jail issue that isn’t getting any better.

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