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A 46-year-old transient who had been in and out of jail on drug- and alcohol-related charges was found unresponsive in his bed Sept. 24 at the Sonoma County Jail. His was the third inmate death there within four months. Investigations are ongoing into the July 9 death of a 22-year-old with sickle cell anemia who died six days after being returned to the jail from Sutter Medical Center, and the June 17 death of a 55-year-old man who was found unconscious in his Sonoma County jail cell less than 24 hours after his arrest. In the latter case, an autopsy showed he had coronary artery disease.

Officials say that deaths are actually rare in a system with 21,000 bookings each year and an average daily inmate population of 1,100 in Sonoma County's two jails. Statewide, there were 116 deaths in county jails in 2004, 155 in 2005 and 134 in 2006, according to statistics compiled by the California Department of Justice.

The department's stats also show that with a total population around 478,000, Sonoma County had two jail deaths in 2006 (one suicide, one of natural causes) and two in 2005 (both of natural causes). In counties with similar-sized populations, Monterey County had three jail deaths (one accidental, two natural causes) in 2005; Solano had one suicide; Santa Barbara reported no jail deaths; and Tulare had two (one suicide, one of natural causes).

With a total population around 252,000, Marin County in 2005 reported no jail deaths in 2005 and one of natural causes in 2006. In counties with a similar population size, Butte had no jail deaths in 2005; Merced reported one suicide; San Luis Obispo had one suicide; and Santa Cruz recorded one accidental jail death.

With a total population around 133,000, Napa County had no jail deaths in 2005 and one suicide in 2006. In counties with similar-sized populations, Butte and Humboldt had no jail deaths in 2005; El Dorado reported two (one suicide, one of natural causes); Madera recorded two suicides; and Yolo had two (one accidental, one of natural causes).

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