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Congressional hearing revisits 2017 Baton Rouge jail suicide

By: - September 20, 2022 1:21 pm
a fence topped with barbed wire

The 2017 suicide of Jonathan Fano at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison while awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges will be highlighted in a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (Canva image)

The 2017 suicide of a man while in the Baton Rouge jail is under new scrutiny as members of Congress examine the underreporting of deaths at correctional facilities.

Jonathan Fano was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in October 2016 on multiple misdemeanor charges. Court records indicate that, while awaiting trial in jail, Fano was denied access to medication for bipolar disorder and depression. 

On Feb. 2, 2017, Fano hung himself in his cell. He was one of 45 deaths at the jail from 2009 through 2019, according to reporting from Reuters.

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee released an investigative report Tuesday on how the Department of Justice (DOJ) has routinely underreported the number of deaths at jails and prisons. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, led the 10-month investigation.

The report cites 2019 data showing 1,200 individuals died in local jails and another 3,853 died in state and privately owned prisons. Yet the investigation concludes the DOJ has not effectively enforced the Death in Custody Reporting Act. Congress approved the law in 2000 and reauthorized it in 2013, when it required states to accurately report prison fatalities.

The subcommittee investigation also revealed the Department of Justice is eight years past a deadline to submit a report on how to reduce in-custody deaths at correctional facilities.

Fano’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against East Baton Rouge Parish after his death, The Advocate reported. Court records show a settlement in the case was reached earlier this year and the suit was dismissed.

Jonathan’s sister, Vanessa Fano, testified before the committee Tuesday afternoon. She told members no one at the East Baton Rouge jail provided her brother with a mental health evaluation and that he was placed in isolation after he cut his wrists. The family was not able to receive details from jail officials or directly from Jonathan, who Vanessa said had limited phone access. 

“When we saw his lifeless body, he was handcuffed to an intensive care bed,” Vanessa Fano told the committee, holding back tears.

Vanessa Fano testifies Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations.
Vanessa Fano testifies Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations. Fano’s brother, Jonathan Fano, took his own life while being held in pretrial detention at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in 2017. (U.S. Senate screen capture)

Loyola University of New Orleans law professor Andrea Armstrong, a national expert of prison and jail conditions, also appeared before the committee. She and her students have compiled data for a website,, that tracks deaths at Louisiana jails and prisons. The subcommittee’s report stresses the need for states to comply with reporting requirements of the Death in Custody Reporting Act, noting that the Department of Justice is failing to do so accurately. 

“It is impossible to fix what is hidden,” Armstrong said.


U.S. government failed to properly count deaths of people in prisons and jails, Senate report says

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.