Suicide-The Silent Killer in American Prisons

A new report has sobering facts for Houston criminal defense lawyers. Suicide is the number one cause of unnatural death among prison inmates in the United States, accounting for about 29% of all prison deaths between 2000 and 2007. Those facts come from a new report, called Mortality in Local Jails, 2000-2007 as reported to the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program.

According to the report, the number of deaths in local prisons in the United States increased from 905 in the year 2000, to 1,103 in 2007. In all, between 2000 and 2007, there were 8,110 deaths in custody. The mortality rate in prisons decreased from 152 per 100,000 inmates, to 141 per 100,000 inmates. During this period of time, the prison inmate operation increased by 31%. More than half of all prison deaths took place within a month after the inmate entered the prison.
More than half of all deaths in local prisons were due to illnesses including AIDS. Among these, heart disease was the number one cause of death among inmates, with 42 % of prison inmates dying from cardiac disease.

The one statistic that jumps out from the study is the fact that suicide is the #1 cause of unnatural death among prison inmates. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of all unnatural prison deaths were linked to suicide.  This was even as the overall suicide rate among prison inmates declined from 49 per 100,000 inmates in 2002, to 36 per 100,000 in 2007.  Suicide also seems to be a much bigger factor in prison deaths in smaller local jails, than in large prisons. In prisons which had 50 or fewer inmates, the suicide rate was 159 per 100,000 inmates, while in some of the largest prisons, the rate was just 27 per 1,000 inmates. In fact, after the researchers adjusted for age, sex and race differences, they found that suicide as a cause of death increased at a much higher pace in US prisons than in the US general population. What this indicates is that prison inmates are committing suicide at a rate that’s increasing faster than the suicide risk for the general population.

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