The number of inmates who died in state prisons and local jails has risen for the third consecutive year, fueled in part by an increase in unnatural deaths, including suicide, drug or alcohol intoxication, accident and homicide, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced Tuesday.
A total of 4,446 inmates died in state and local custody in 2013 – an increase of 131 deaths from the year before – marking the deadliest year the agency has reported since 2007. Previously the number of deaths in custody was on a downward trend for several years, decreasing by an annual average of 2% until it stopped in 2010.
The report comes after a series of high-profile cases has shined a spotlight on the number of people who have died in police custody. Just last month, the death of 28-year-old Sandra Bland sparked national outcry after her body was found hanging in her jail cell three days after she was arrested in a routine traffic stop.
A total of 967 inmates died in local jails at the last reporting in 2013, a nine-death increase from the year before. And while the number of inmates who died from natural causes went down – cases of deaths due to liver disease decreased by 35% – the number of unnatural causes actually went up. Drug and alcohol intoxication were responsible for 70 deaths in 2013, a 23% increase from 2012.
Suicide has been the leading cause of death in local jails for more than the last decade, BJS reported. More than a third (34%) of all jail deaths in 2013 were ruled suicides. The rate of these deaths has increased by 12% in the last four years.
The problems are not widespread. In fact, 80% of all jails in the county did not experience an inmate death in 2013. Nearly a quarter of all cases were reported in just two states – California and Texas.
The bulk of all deaths were reported in state prisons, where the number of deaths increased by 122. There, the vast majority (90%) were illness-related deaths.