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The Highest Prison Death Rates Ever

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside prisons or noticed a startlingly high increase in prison death rates? For context, prison death rates are measured by the number of deaths per 100,000 people in a particular area. Notably, in 2020, the amount of prison death rates in the U.S increased by 61%, but this news never appeared to enter the spotlight.

According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall prison death rates have had an increase between the years 2016 and 2018, but increased more starkly in 2020. Officially, this increase in mortality rates was attributed to COVID-19. However, this covers broader issues in the prison system, evident by death rate increases even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The same report by the BJS stated that state prison death rate records in the U.S during 2018 reached the highest record at 4,135 deaths, excluding executions. The overall rise in prison death rates from 2016 through 2018 went from 303 to 344 per 100,000 people in just two years.

According to the BJS, the prison death rates in 2019 through 2020 continued to rise drastically, going from 4,200 to 6,100 in just one year. Although the death rates were rising, the prison population had an overall decline, from having a population of 608,026 in 2019 to 549,622 in 2020, due to the decrease in crime rates. The decline in crime rates and the total prison population highlights the importance of this issue.

Although COVID-19 did have a significant impact on prison death rates as it created a troublesome experience for the majority of populations everywhere, the inadequate healthcare provided for the incarcerated in state prisons contributed to the increase in mortality rates from not just COVID-19 but other health problems as well.

The main problem arises within state prisons, which contributes to these concerning statistics. The BJS report also states, “The rate of homicide in state prison is 2.5 times greater than in the U.S. population when adjusted for age, sex, and race/ethnicity,” giving insight into how homicides are also a great factor in prisons contributing to the mortality rates. Not only does this report show homicides are typical in state prisons, but it also provides a deeper understanding of the lack of supervision from officers in state prisons that could prevent these statistics.

Along with homicides being one of the leading causes of prison death rates, suicide and any acts relating to self-abuse are also significant factors. A report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) stated, “not only does a longer incarceration increase the sheer probability of having a mental health crisis inside, but it also creates the conditions for this to happen.” This statement contributes to the relationship between prisons and the mental health of prisoners, which can eventually lead to acts of self-harm. These statistics of self-harm committed by prisoners could be significantly reduced with proper supervision from state correctional officers. The PPI report states that when an inmate indicates a mental health crisis, “correctional officers are supposed to act swiftly to prevent suicide and self-harm,” but in this case, this obligation is not followed by many state prisons regarding the inmate mortality rates. Although prisons are meant to be a place of punishment for the incarcerated, the inhumane treatment they have recently provided is not acceptable. Overall, the rise in prison death rates is a problem that has not been successfully dealt with by the media and prisons themselves. The inadequate healthcare and protection services provided by these prisons in the U.S have remarkably contributed to the concerning high prison death rate statistics. Although this topic seems controversial nationwide, it isn’t an option for prisons to follow their conduct to provide humane services to inmates to reduce these statistics while maintaining their individual punishment for any unrightful act committed.


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