For the first time, federal researchers have analyzed data on inmates who died in prison. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics details 12,129 state prisoner deaths between 2001 and 2004. The main findings: half of the deaths resulted from heart disease and cancer; two-third involved inmates 45 or older; two-thirds resulted from medical problems present at the time of admission; and 40 percent occurred in Texas, California, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. Only 6 percent were suicides and 2 percent homicides.
The report concluded that the mortality rate of state prisoners was 19 percent lower than that of the general population in the 15-to-64 age range. That total was driven by black inmates. Prison experts explained that many blacks behind bars would be expected to receive better health care and be less exposed to disease and homcide than in their home communities. A widely distributed Associated Press story on the BJS study erroneously reported in a headline and lead paragraph that the report showed that “State Inmates Outlive People on Outside.” The report did not conclude that prisoners live longer lives on average than do non-inmates.