Criminal Justice

Another person dies after a medical emergency in the Harris County Jail, marking the 10th death this year

Within the last month, four men have reportedly died while in custody at the Harris County Jail. So far, at least 10 people have died this year.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County Jail in downtown Houston, on April 12, 2021.

A man died over the weekend after suffering from an apparent medical emergency at the Harris County Jail, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. At least 10 people have reportedly died while in the county’s custody this year.

The sheriff’s office says Oscar Villazana, 49, was booked on Oct. 3, 2022 after allegedly assaulting a family member. On July 13, he was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital after suffering from a “medical emergency,” according to the sheriff’s office. Days later, 10:14 p.m. on July 16, he was pronounced dead.

Villazana’s cause of death will be determined through an autopsy conducted by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Within the last month, at least three other men have reportedly died while in custody at the Harris County Jail. So far, at least 10 people have died this year.

For over a year now, the jail's daily population has fluctuated close to the facility’s maximum capacity, leading jail reform advocates to blame the increased number of in-custody deaths on chronic overcrowding.

This comes after at least 27 people died while in custody last year — the highest number in nearly two decades, according to county records and data from Texas Justice Initiative.

While the jail’s daily population has slightly dwindled over the last few months, the number of people being outsourced to other facilities has steadily climbed above 1,000 people. As of Sunday, there were 9,529 people in the jail and 1,151 people being outsourced, according to the Harris County Jail dashboard.

Lucio Vasquez

Lucio Vasquez

Newscast Producer

Lucio Vasquez is a newscast producer at Houston Public Media, NPR’s affiliate station in Houston, Texas. Over the last two years, he's covered a wide range of topics, from politics and immigration to culture and the arts. Lately, Lucio has focused his reporting primarily on public safety and criminal justice...

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