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BJS Says Slight Increase in State and Local Prisoner Deaths in 2013

The most recent compilation of mortality statistics for local jails and state correctional facilities by the Depart of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showed an effective increase of approximately 2% for 2012, the last year for which statistics are available.  Although the total number of local and state jail deaths in 2012 was 4309, up only 67 from 2011.  The number of prisoner deaths in the federal system declined slightly in 2012.

In 2012 an average of 746,000 prisoner were in local jails on any given days, while for state and federal prisoners, the number was 1,267,000, of which approximately 215,000 were in federal institutions.

Local jails generally hold their prisoners for shorter periods of time than state or federal prisons, and as a result, generally have less medical care available for the confined.  Unlike state and federal prisons, most local jails have only part-time medical personnel, generally available only during daylight hours.  Prisoners falling ill or suffering a health emergency overnight are at the mercy of correction staff, who first interest in institutional security, and who may or may not have training in emergency medical response.  This tends to lead to a higher mortality rate for local prisoners than state or federal detainees.

Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death in local jails, but over half of the deaths were disease related, with death by heart problems being the most common.  Many local jail detainees are often deprived of their doctor-prescribed medication upon their arrest and entry in local jails for alleged security reasons, which increases their chance for death.

According to the report, “In 2012, a total of 3,351 deaths (78% of all deaths in correctional facilities) occurred in state prisons, which was nearly equal to the number of deaths in 2011 (3,353)        .  Although the number of deaths in state prisons remained constant, the overall mortality rate in prisons increased 2% in 2012.  The increase from 2011 to 2012 was largely due to decrease in the prison population.”

Deaths in federally-controlled facilities declined in the past year to 350 to 387, despite the increasing average age of federal prisoners, and the accompanying increase of age-related illness because of that changing demographic.  Suicide was also the leading cause of non-illness death in federal prisons, ahead of homicides, AIDS, or accidents.  The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not publish a breakdown as to what illness caused the death of a prison in its custody, an interesting and also disturbing situation, given increasing criticism of BOP health-care practices.

Sources:, “BJS Reports Uptick in Jail Deaths,“ www.the, October 9, 2014.

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