Data & Key Findings

Dying Inside | The Hidden Crisis in America’s Jails

Data & Key Findings

Dying Inside | The Hidden Crisis in America’s Jails


Deaths in Jail

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Jail deaths in America: data and key findings of Dying Inside

The U.S. government does not release jail by jail mortality data, keeping the public and policy makers in the dark about facilities with high rates of death. In a first-of-its-kind accounting, Reuters obtained and is releasing that data to the public.

What if the jail in your community had an outsized death rate, but no one knew? For decades, communities across the country have faced that quandary. The Justice Department collects jail death data, but locks the information away, leaving policymakers, investigators and activists unaware of problem facilities.

Reuters journalists filed more than 1,500 public records requests to gain death data from 2008 to 2019 in the nation’s biggest jails. Today, jail by jail and state by state, it is making that information available to the public. Reuters examined every large jail in the United States, those with 750 or more inmates. And, to ensure it examined deaths across the country, it obtained data for the 10 largest jails in each state. The data covers 523 jails or jail systems.

To learn about the jails in your state, download the .pdf files below; to get information on each individual death in those jails, download the .csv file for a spreadsheet. Reuters encourages news organizations and researchers to explore the data for their own studies and asks that the data be credited to Reuters News.

The data

Download key findings by state and key data for analysis:

Key findings

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

7,571Reuters documented 7,571 inmate deaths at 523 American jails from 2008 to 2019. The mortality rate in those local lockups climbed 8% over the last three years and 35% over the decade ending in 2019. Problem jails are masked by a secretive federal reporting system and scant oversight by local, state or federal agencies.

East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

66%At least two-thirds of the dead, 4,998 people, died awaiting trial, never getting their day in court for the charges they faced. Nearly 300 inmates spent a year or more jailed, never convicted of the pending charges, before their deaths.

REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

1 in 10The surge in deaths comes as jails grapple with inmate populations racked by sickness, mental illness and addictions that often go unaddressed behind bars. More than a quarter of the deaths documented by Reuters were suicides. More than 1 in 10 last year were tied to the acute effects of drugs and alcohol.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

18%-58%Sixty-two percent of top U.S. jails have privatized their healthcare services. It has been a deadly shift. From 2016-18, jails in the Reuters survey that hired one of the five dominant jail healthcare companies had average death rates from illness, suicide or drug- and alcohol-related problems 18%-58% higher than jails with inmate healthcare managed by public agencies.


170,000As COVID-19 spread behind bars this spring, the number of inmates in jails and prisons examined by Reuters plunged by more than 170,000 in an effort to halt the disease. The unprecedented experiment in “decarceration” is causing a reassessment of criminal justice policy in a country that incarcerates more people than any other.

Dying Inside: The Hidden Crisis in America’s Jails

Data reporting by Grant Smith, Peter Eisler, Linda So, Ned Parker, Brad Heath and Jason Szep

Additional data reporting contributed by Emily Isaacman, Adam DeRose, Craig Lyons, Eric Blom, Henry Eisler, Christine Fernando and Dean Essner

Data Editing: Janet Roberts and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Maryanne Murray and Matthew Weber

Photo editing: Corinne Perkins

Video: Linda So

Art direction: Troy Dunkley and Pete Hausler

Edited by Ronnie Greene