Inmates More Likely to Die in Missouri Jails Than in 42* Other States

Categories: Crime

​The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics released a bunch of numbers yesterday offering an exhaustive demographic account of inmates who are dying in prisons and jails across the country.

It's not a report that Missouri will necessarily be proud of. The state shared the No. 7 ranking with Utah in the category of mortality rate per jail inmate in 2009, the last year on record. The state's twenty deaths equaled a ratio of 173 deaths per 100,000 inmates, which is the calculating measure used by the Justice Department's Deaths in Custody Reporting Program. *The District of Columbia is also included in the rankings, but six states do not report their annual numbers, so the results might be slightly skewed.

In 2008, Missouri was ranked tenth in that category. In 2007 we were ranked second, behind only Washington, DC.

The State prison system fared better, comparatively. The 81 prisoner deaths in 2009 gave us 266 deaths per 100,000 inmates, or a No. 24 ranking.

Overall, mortality rates are declining among states and prisons across the country, and 2009 witnessed one of the lowest numbers of jail deaths in a decade. In 2008 and 2009, suicide, heart disease, cancer and liver disease remained the leading causes of death in both prisons and jails.

The justice department data also are broken down by the inmates' ages, races, and sex.

More interesting findings from the report:

  • State prison facilities reported 3,452 inmate deaths in 2008 (a rate of 260 deaths per 100,000 prison inmates) and 3,408 inmate deaths in 2009 (257 deaths per 100,000 prison inmates).
  • Heart disease (26%) and cancer (27%) were the leading single causes of illness-related deaths in prisons, together accounting for nearly half (52%) of all prison deaths in 2009.
  • In 2008, 960 inmates died in U.S. jails (a mortality rate of 123 deaths per 100,000 jail inmates) and in 2009, 948 inmates died in U.S. jails (a rate of 127 deaths per 100,000 jail inmates).
  • In 2009, 32% of deaths in jails were suicides and 21% were due to heart disease.

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Mike N.
Mike N.

Thanks for fixing the asterisk in the headline -- that was bugging me!


Give me a break Mr. Tucker and do some research.  The Federal Prison in Springfield is a medical facility for federal inmates.  They send sick prisoners there from all over the country. Wouldn't you expect a higher death rate at a hospital than in a dormitory?


There might not be anything to be proud of but there also isn't anything to be ashamed of.  From the statistics listed it appears that a large number of the deaths are due to natural causes (and yes...I consider suicide a natural cause).  Also based on the wild swings in the state rankings and the fact that 6 states opt out of the rankings this leads me to believe that the "skewing" is coming from factors beyond the control of the prison system.  It suggests that Missouri's rankings on this list could be due to any number of factors including statewide general health, exposure to carcinogens, and let's not forget transfers of prisoners already in ill health from other states.

This is a classic example of how statistics can be misused.  Just like St. Louis' crime statistics, statistical ranking does not necessarily present an accurate picture.  If the federal and state prisons were somehow responsible for this ranking you would see much more consistency in the data such as it getting consistently better or worse.  I don't see that here.

People have a higher propensity to die in prison and at a younger age.  Everyone already knows this.  It's part of what makes "going to prison" don't commit crimes!


Exactly, Mr. Tucker is a moron, another reporter not giving the while story,

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