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Increased State Prison Mortality Rate Tracks Rise in Elderly Population

The increase in elderly prisoners in state facilities appears to be driving higher mortality rates.

The portion of state prisoners aged 55 or older roughly tripled from 2001 to 2016 (from 4 percent to 12 percent). At the same time, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, mortality rates have increased.

The most recently available figures show the death rate in state facilities rose between 2015 and 2016 from 296 deaths per 100,000 prisoners to 303 deaths per 100,000  prisoners.

According to BJS, the subpopulation of elderly inmates had the highest mortality rate—“more than three times as high as any other age group in each year” between 2001 and 2016.

The data showed that deaths in state prisons rose slightly during the period, even though the state prison population has been declining since 2006.

Meanwhile deaths in federal prisons dropped in 2016 by 15 percent—the first such drop since 2012.

The total number of deaths in state and federal prisons, including privately operated facilities, was 4,117.

About 13 percent of the state prison deaths in 2016 were due to “unnatural causes,” such as suicide, drug of alcohol intoxication, accidents or homicide, compared to 9 percent in 2001.

In contrast, the rate in federal prisons decreased from 283 to 252 deaths per 100,000 inmates between 2015 and 2016.

More than half of all deaths in state prisons in 2016 (55 percent) were of white prisoners, who comprised less than one-third (31 percent) of the state prison population.

During that period, eight states (Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia) accounted for more than half of all deaths in state prisons (27,204 of 53,051).

Texas (6,628) and California (5,796) accounting for 23 percent of all deaths.

The full report can be downloaded here.