Incomplete data tracking hides a crisis of rising death rates in overburdened Northwest jails.

OPB PHOTO - The Columbia County Jail is pictured Saturday, March 30, 2019, in St. Helens, Ore. In 2012, Michael Saffioti turned himself in on a misdemeanor. The charge was marijuana possession. The next day at the Snohomish County Jail in Everett, Washington, he was served oatmeal that contained milk. The 22-year-old with severe asthma and a dairy allergy went into anaphylaxis and died.

In 2015, in Island County Jail on Washington's Whidbey Island, 25-year-old Keaton Farris was found naked on the floor of his cell. He died malnourished and dehydrated after guards turned off the water to his cell because he had flooded it previously.

One year later, in the Columbia County Jail in St. Helens, Oregon, two inmates attempted suicide on the same day. Responders saved one, but 44-year-old Jason Shaw later died at a Portland hospital. He had hanged himself using a bedsheet.

In 2018, 53-year-old Jacqueline Cowans was booked at the Lane County Jail in Eugene, Oregon, on three warrants: burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle and unlawful delivery of methadone. Eight days later she was moaning, asking for water and saying she was dying. Less than an hour after that, she was dead. The medical examiner determined she died from internal bleeding caused by pancreatitis.

Since 2008, at least 306 people across the Northwest have died after being taken to a county jail, according to an investigation by OPB, KUOW and the Northwest News Network. Until now, that number was unknown, in part because Oregon and Washington have not comprehensively tracked those deaths in county jails.

If they did, they would find a crisis of rising death rates in overburdened jails that have been set up to fail the inmates they are tasked with keeping safe.

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