Jail Suicides Up, Says Federal Report

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Photo by Stephanie Ezcurra via Flickr

Two new reports from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show a notable increase in suicides among inmates of jails and state prisons.

Suicides accounted for 35 percent of jail deaths nationwide in 2014—an increase of 13 percent over  the previous year, the BJS said.

Although the actual numbers were comparatively small (372), the BJS noted the increase was the largest number of jail suicides reported by the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP) since it began tabulating jail mortality figures. Between 2009-2014, the suicide rate increased 22 percent from 35 per 100,000 jail deaths to 45 per 100,000 jail deaths.

Overall, 1,053 jail inmates died in custody in 2014—an eight percent increase over the previous year—which the report called “the largest number of deaths reported since 2008.”  The second leading cause of death (after general illness) was heart disease, the report said.

In a second report on mortality in federal and state prisons, the BJS noted also that suicides increased by 30 percent between 2013 and 2014.  Again, illness was the leading cause of death and the report noted that the number of state prisoners aged 55 and older in state prisons has been steadily increasing—from 58,900 (in 2005) to 125,000 *(in 2014)—a trend described by many as the “aging” of the prison system.

The jail report said did not specify which facilities reported deaths, though it said 82 percent of the nation’s jails reported no deaths between 2008-2014.

The lack of specificity has drawn criticism.

“It’s a national scandal that we have so little information about people who died in state custody,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project.

In an interview reported today by The Huffington Post, Fathi complained that the government only published data on jail deaths years afterward—making it impossible to identify facilities with high death rates.

The BJS jail mortality report is available here, and the data on state prisons can be read here.


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