By Chris Zoukis

For the third year in row, the number of prisoners who died in America’s prisons and jails rose. Some 4,446 prisoners died in 2013, a two percent increase over 2012, continuing an upward trend, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for prisoners confined in local jails: more than one-third of all jail deaths in 2013 were suicides, resulting in a suicide rate that increased by 14 percent over 2012. According to the report, suicide has been the leading cause of death for jail prisoners since 2000. Overall, the mortality rate for jail prisoners increased from 128 per 100,000 in 2012 to 135 per 100,000 in 2013. A total of 967 deaths occurred in jails in 2013, up from 958 in 2012, despite a 4 percent decrease in jail population.

For state prisoners, the death toll also rose. A total of 3,479 state prisoners died in custody in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. The mortality rate also went up 3 percent to 274 deaths per 100,000, a record high rate since such data collection began in 2000. Some 90 percent of 2013 deaths were illness-related. However, the percentage of deaths attributable to homicide, which includes death at the hands of other prisoners and guards and previous assaults, rose to 2.6 percent, the highest number since such data collection began.

Pursuant to the study, several numbers were notable. California’s dubious leadership in prisoner deaths was expressed in the 4,790 deaths from 2001 to 2013 represented 11 percent of the total deaths in that period. Almost a third of those deaths were due to drug or alcohol intoxication. California and Texas led the way in jail deaths, combining to make up 23 percent of all fatalities.

This article recently appeared in Prison Legal News in November 2016.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).