Magazine article Corrections Forum

Medical Causes of Death in State Prisons 2001-2004

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Medical Causes of Death in State Prisons 2001-2004

Article excerpt

Between 2001 and 2004, 89% of deaths in state prisons were attributed to medical conditions. Heart disease and cancer were the two leading causes of deaths, according to the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP).

Between 2001 and 2004, state prison authorities nationwide reported a total of 12,129 state prisoner deaths. Fewer than one in ten deaths were the result of suicide (6%) and homicide (2%), while alcohol/drug intoxication and accidental injury accounted for another 1% each. A definitive cause could not be determined for 1% of these deaths.

First Personal National Inmate Cause of Death Data

This information was obtained from individual death records collected under the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 (PL 106-297). These records provide the first national data on personal characteristics of inmates who died in custody and the circumstances of the deaths.

Comparative mortality rates showed:

* Male state prisoners had a death rate 72% higher than female state prisoners

* State prisoners had a 19% lower death rate than the adult U.S. resident population; among blacks, the mortality rate was 57% lower among prisoners.

The total number of deaths excludes 258 state prison executions during 2001-2004.

Correctional authorities reported over 60 different fatal medical conditions, but prisoner deaths were heavily concentrated among a small number of diseases. Heart diseases (27%), including heart attacks, and cancer (23%) caused half of all state prisoner deaths from 2001 to 2004. When combined with liver diseases (10%) and AIDS-related causes (7%), two-thirds of all state prisoner deaths were caused by these four medical conditions.

DCRP also noted these points of interest:

* Black and Hispanic inmate mortality rates identical; white inmates 67% higher.

The mortality rate of whites was nearly twice that of blacks and Hispanics for heart diseases and cancer. White inmates had a lower AIDS-related death rate than blacks.

* Two-thirds of state prison deaths involved inmates age 45 or older.

The death rate of inmates age 55 and older was over three times higher than that of inmates age 45-54, and 11 times higher than those age 35-44.

Among deaths of elderly state prisoners, 85% were 45 or older when admitted.

Among older inmates, the mortality rate of those age 65 or older was particularly high. Though these elderly inmates made up 1% of prisoners, they accounted for 15% of prisoner deaths.

* Death from illness increased with time served in prison.

The death rate from illness rose sharply for prisoners serving lengthy terms. For inmates who had served at least 10 years in state prison, the mortality rate due to illness was triple that of inmates who had served less than five years in prison. …

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