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Main entrance gate near administration Building at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Inmates awaiting trial at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison have died at a rate two-and-a-half times the national average in recent years, according to an investigative report published Thursday by the Reuters.    

The news wire service quoted one medical official describing the lockup as a "ticking time bomb."

The report highlights more than two dozen deaths that occurred at the lockup between 2012 and 2016, including at least five inmates who had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness or showed signs of one. 

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail, blamed most of the deaths on drug use, "poor health and pre-existing conditions," according to Reuters. But a private consultant found that the lockup is woefully understaffed compared to other jails when it comes to psychiatric care. 

"The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is a vivid example of how local jails struggle to treat the masses of mentally ill filling their dank cells," the report says. 

The outdated jail has been the subject of controversy for years, but taxpayers have resisted proposals to fund a new facilities. The Advocate reported earlier this month that the jail's mentally ill population has skyrocketed since the state shut down psychiatric facilities.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has estimated the jail's mentally ill population jumped from about 20 to 25 percent to as high as 50 or 55 percent. 

Read the full Reuters report here

Three of last 4 deaths at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison were mentally ill inmates jailed as mental health centers closed