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Deaths in Jail
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.
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.
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.
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