Reuters

Murder is not nearly as prevalent as you might think. 

On the HBO show Oz, set in a fictional state prison, the leading cause of death is homicide. In real life, the leading killer of state prison inmates is cancer, followed closely by heart disease and then liver disease. Homicide doesn't even crack the top 10. The same is mostly true for local jails, except instead of heart disease or cancer, suicide makes up the plurality of deaths.

The infrequency of homicide behind bars is one takeaway from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' new report, "Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000-2011." Here are some other noteworthy facts about dying while incarcerated ...

... in jails:

  • From 2000 to 2010, the suicide rate for white inmates was at least three times higher than the rate for inmates of other races or Hispanic origin.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, about half of suicides (48 percent) and a third (32 percent) of heart disease deaths occurred within the first week of detention. More than a fifth of AIDS-related deaths (22 percent) and more than a third of cancer deaths (38 percent) occurred after 6 months of detention.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, male jail inmates were 1.6 times more likely to commit suicide than female inmates. Female jail inmates were nearly twice as likely as males to die of drug or alcohol intoxication.
... and in state prisons:
 
  • White prisoners accounted for about half of prison inmate deaths in any single year between 2001 and 2010, and for 57 percent of deaths in 2011. Black inmates accounted for about a third of prisoner deaths in any single year between 2001 and 2011, and for 31 percent of deaths in 2011.
  • Between 2001 and 2011, the female prisoner mortality rate fluctuated from 127 to 172 deaths per 100,000 female prisoners. In 2011, the male prisoner mortality rate was 1.6 times higher than the female prisoner mortality rate.
  • Mortality rates for cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and accidents were about twice the rates for male prisoners than for female prisoners
  • Between 2001 and 2011, black state prisoners (8 per 100,000) committed suicide at about a third of the rate of white state prisoners (25 per 100,000).
  • The homicide rate among prisoners age 55 or older was 2 to 3 times higher than for prisoners ages 18 to 44. The accident-related mortality rate for prisoners age 55 or older was at least 2.5 times higher than for younger inmates.

For more on suicides in local jails, read Chris Opfer's piece, "The Prisoner Suicide Puzzle." 


Top image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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