WBUR Announces Debut Series from WBUR Investigations Team: “Dying On The Sheriff’s Watch”

Reporting from WBUR Investigations, a new unit led by award-winning journalists Christine Willmsen and Beth Healy, found that over the past decade, when county jail inmates in Massachusetts suffered from dire medical conditions, poor medical care led to suffering and deaths.

The four-part series, “Dying On The Sheriff’s Watch,” begins Tuesday, March 24 during WBUR’s Morning Edition.

A “first listen” trailer is online here.

On any given day in the Commonwealth, there are about 9,500 people held in county jails, more than in the state’s prisons. Two-thirds are awaiting trial, and the rest are serving short sentences. This investigation from WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, is the first accounting of 195 deaths in county jails over a decade, the details of which are often kept secret. A number of these deaths were never even reported to the federal government, as required by law.

“Imagine it was your son, your sister, your father in this situation,” said Christine Willmsen, senior investigative editor and reporter at WBUR.

“In scouring public records and talking to families, former inmates and healthcare experts, we found the details of these deaths were often concealed by elected sheriffs and the for-profit medical providers who are responsible for their care.”

Christine Willmsen

The series examines who should be held accountable and aims to address the failures of this system through the eyes of inmates and their families. The reporting underscores the power that Massachusetts elected sheriffs hold.

“We tracked who died and why in the custody of elected sheriffs, and how families struggled to find answers,” said Beth Healy, senior investigative reporter at WBUR. “We learned from our conversations that families were often left in the dark around the circumstances of what happened to their loved ones, keeping justice out of reach.”

“Dying On The Sheriff’s Watch” will air in four consecutive parts on WBUR’s Morning Edition (5-9 a.m.) and stories will be published online each day from Tuesday, March 24 through Friday, March 27. Find all the stories at

About WBUR Investigations

WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, launched a new investigative unit to expand its reporting with a mission to produce deeply reported stories about subjects that affect the lives of people living in New England. Funded by The Campaign for WBUR, the team is led by Christine Willmsen, a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, joined by Beth Healy, a former member of the award-winning Spotlight team at the Boston Globe. Follow the team online at WBUR Investigations.

Learn more about the team and the inner-workings of investigative journalism in a local newsroom with the Q&A with Willmsen & Healy here



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