The leading cause of death among jail prisoners was suicide, accounting for 29% of all deaths. The probability of a prisoner committing suicide went down as the size of the jail increased. The suicide rate among the smallest jails was 6 times higher than among the largest jails.
At 41 deaths per 100,000 prisoners, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the 50 largest jails. The AIDS-related death rate was 7.5 times higher (15 per 100,000) within the 50 largest jails than in jails with an average daily population of under 1,000 (2 per 100,000). The homicide rate in the 50 largest jails was triple that of all other jails, but the intoxication death rate in the smallest jails (31 per 100,000) was quadruple that of the 50 largest jails (8 per 100,000).
Deaths due to accidents (4 per 100,000) and homicide (3 per 100,000) remained constant throughout the reporting period. The death rate for intoxication grew from 6 per 100,000 in 2000 to 10 per 100,000 in 2007. In 93% of the deaths reported, an autopsy was performed. In 6% of deaths among jail prisoners, no definitive cause of death was determined.
When the jail population is standardized to the demographics of the U.S. population as a whole, the leading causes of death are, in order of prevalence: suicide, heart disease, intoxication, AIDS and cancer. For the U.S. general population, the leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents. The suicide rate for jail prisoners was triple that of the general population. Clearly, this report indicates a need, especially for smaller jails, to expend additional resources to prevent prisoner suicides.