Deaths in custody at local jails and state prisons declined 5 percent in 2010 over the year before, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report, “Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000-2010,” written by BJS statistician Margaret E. Noonan, said 4,150 inmates died while in the custody in 2010. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of deaths in federal prisons increased from 301 to 387 deaths, a 29 percent increase. The report said the increase of deaths was mainly due to the increase in the federal prison population.
In 2010 about 52 percent of deaths in jails and 89 percent of deaths in prisons were due to an illness-related condition—heart disease, AIDS, cancer, liver disease, respiratory diseases, and other illnesses. Deaths due to homicide or accident were less common in prisons or jails compared to other causes of death, comprising less than three percent of deaths in jails or prisons in 2010. The five leading causes of jail inmate deaths in 2010 were suicide (33 percent), heart disease (26 percent), drug or alcohol intoxication (six percent), cancer (four percent) and liver diseases (three percent). Among prisoner deaths from 2001 to 2010, cancer and heart disease together accounted for about half of all illness-related deaths each year.