A June 2023 report by Loyola University College of Law found that annual deaths behind bars in Louisiana jumped over 18% to an average of 187.5 in the period 2020-21. That’s up from an average of 158.6 between 2015 and 2019.
Of 1,168 people who died behind bars over the entire seven-year period, over 13% had not been convicted of a crime and were still awaiting trial. Non-whites accounted for 40.58% of the total. Almost all—95.8%—were male. Their average age was 55.75.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in the 46% of deaths due to respiratory causes clustered in 2020 and 2021. Overall, though, heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of death for the entire period. Just under 7% of the deaths were suicides and just under 6% were fatal drug overdoses, though a disproportionate share of both—46% of suicides and 30% of fatal overdoses—occurred among those held in pretrial detention. Two-thirds of all suicides occurred while held in segregation. Accidents and violence accounted for about 2% each of all deaths during the period.
One-quarter of all deaths occurred in parish jails, while the rest were in state prisons. A cluster of those in parishes around Baton Rouge—Avoyelles, West Feliciana, East Feliciana and Iberville—drove their death rates higher than anywhere else in the state. At the end of 2021, just over half of the 26,377 prisoners held by the state Department of Corrections were in parish jails, which also held an estimated 16,000 others awaiting trial.
With an incarceration rate of 1,094 per 100,000 residents, the state “locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth,” according to the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative. Louisiana also has one of the highest per capita rates in the U.S. of incarceration for life without the possibility of parole—representing 16.6% of the state’s total prison population—thanks to “excessively long or mandatory sentences, limited releases through parole, and multi-billing practices in several parishes,” the report noted. See: Louisiana Deaths Behind Bars 2015-2021, Loyola Univ. Coll. of Law (2023).
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