Lethal: More people are dying in state prisons than are being incarcerated

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released new data that shows disturbing trends of deaths in state prisons. Activist Mariame Kaba calls prisons “death-making institutions,” and data to backs that up.

We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for this week’s report, “New data: State prisons are increasingly deadly places,” by Leah Wang and Wendy Sawyer. Researchers from the BJS have found alarming rises in discrete unnatural deaths—from homicide, suicide, and drug and alcohol intoxication.

  • State prisons are intended for people sentenced to at least one year and set up for long-term stays, with programming, treatment, and education facilities.

  • State prisons are often regarded as more stable places, especially over jails and receive less attention from the media concerning deaths behind bars.

  • Though state prisons are deemed more stable, suicide rates are up 22% from the last mortality report two years ago.

  • Deaths from alcohol or drug intoxication have risen by 139% from the same mortality report.

  • There has been a slight net increase in state prison populations since 2001 but it is much lower than the increase in overall deaths.

  • 340 suicides were recorded in state prisons in 2018, the highest since BJS started taking data.

  • Suicides have increased in state prisons since 2001 by 85%, compared to the one percent net growth of the population.

  • The suicide rate in state prisons is nearly two times higher than the suicide rate of the overall U.S population.

  • It is important to note that the BJS data does not show comparison of death rates by sentence length.

  • Deaths from drug and alcohol intoxication are the biggest cause of death in state prisons since 2001.

  • People are about three times more likely to die from drug or alcohol intoxication than a homicide in state prisons; six times more likely than an accident, seven times more likely than suicide, and almost 23 times more likely to die from intoxication than from an illness.

  • The data on these deaths does not include data from COVID-19 related deaths in state prisons.

The Prison Policy Initiative offers recommendations for improving mental health and general health care support for people in state prisons, as well as suggestions to reduce prison populations. They also note that illegal contraband, such as drugs and alcohol, are often brought inside by correctional staff.

Overall, the data shows that conditions in state prisons are creating rising and troubling unnatural death rates for incarcerated people.

Read the whole report here.



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