On October 10, 2023, Angelena McCord, 29, of Tyonek, was taken off life support at Alaska Regional Hospital. McCord arrived at the hospital in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody, after suffering a seizure at Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility, where she had been in custody for only five days on a shoplifting charge.
On September 22, McCord was transported to the hospital. The very next day, the state dismissed her shoplifting charge, and the court ordered her “released.” Even though the medical emergency she experienced happened while in the care of DOC, the agency is not reporting or counting McCord’s death.
While DOC isn’t counting McCord’s death, we certainly are. She is the 11th person to die in DOC custody. As we have done for everyone else, the ACLU of Alaska’s Prison Project is now investigating - a process that includes finding witnesses, filing to preserve evidence, submitting records requests, and talking with loved ones.
Our hearts are with McCord’s family and friends as they mourn her passing, as well as the 28 other families who have lost loved ones in DOC custody in 2022 and 2023.
Our investigation has shed light on DOC’s failure to take responsibility for medical emergencies that have led to death of incarcerated Alaskans. McCord’s death follows the pattern of two other people who died in DOC custody from medical emergencies but who were not reported or counted by DOC.
The agency failed to count the deaths of Lewis Jordan Jr. and Jimmie Singree, who died in DOC custody because of the conditions they were forced to live in.
Both Singree and Jordan suffered medical emergencies in DOC custody, resulting in their eventual deaths in 2023. Both men were transported to the hospital – Jordan in a coma, Singree already brain dead -- in wrist and ankle shackles. Lewis’s head was covered with a spit hood.
While Singree’s body was kept alive in hopes of donating his organs, DOC “released” him from custody. DOC did not report his death because he had been “released” at the official time of death.
While Jordan lay in a coma in the hospital, he was somehow granted parole. He had been in jail for a parole violation – driving without a license.He also would not have been capable of applying for parole while in a coma. Jordan’s death was not reported by DOC because he had been granted parole before his death.
DOC is legally and morally responsible for keeping the thousands of Alaskans in its custody safe and alive. DOC continues to skirt responsibility and accountability for the deaths of Singree, Jordan and now, McCord. And because these deaths are not reported, we are now questioning if the record 18 deaths in 2022 may have been higher.
Each Alaskan who has died in DOC custody needs to be counted. Each family who has lost a loved one in DOC custody deserves answers, which they rarely ever get. DOC is responsible for the conditions leading up to the deaths of these people. It needs to be held accountable for failures to meet the medical, behavioral, or mental health needs of people in its custody.
There also must be accountability for the disproportionate number of Alaska Native people who are incarcerated in Alaska's prisons across the state. Alaska Native Peoples make up 22% of the state population but represent 44% of the incarcerated population. Of the 18 deaths that occurred in DOC custody in 2022, 9 of them were of Alaska Native people. Read more about Alaska Native people and the prison system here.
The ACLU of Alaska is continuing to push for an independent investigation of DOC. It is unacceptable that people keep dying preventable deaths in DOC custody. It’s unacceptable that DOC continues to hide from responsibility for the conditions leading to these deaths. It’s unacceptable that families are not getting answers they need to grieve and heal. None of this is acceptable.