There are over 158,000 federal inmates currently in custody in the United States, and nearly 2 million people in state (and federal) prisons, local jails, juvenile correction facilities, as well as other state run facilities. Within these systems, the people held in custody can stay for as little as 48 hours, or as many as multiple lifetime sentences. Statistics show that during the time inmates spend in custody in the past few years, deaths have risen 46%. The cause of deaths, although some cases are surfacing recently, have been called a “black hole of information.”

Suicides and Complications from Physical Illness in Jail

According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, the most common causes of in-custody deaths are suicide, complications from a physical illness, and drug or alcohol related deaths. The article also states that drug and alcohol related deaths, as well as suicides, were the most prevalent within the first 24 hours of custody.

In cases such as Jonathan Merced, 19, a lack of medical care was the cause of death, reports PennLive Patriot News. In 2019 the teenager was arrested and sent to Schuylkill County Prison, PA, for a stolen vehicle, but never received a court date. During his time in custody, Merced died. A lawsuit was formed by Merced’s mother, claiming that Merced had a pre-existing heart condition that required regular medical treatment and was not given proper care while in custody. The lack of care resulted in “his condition to deteriorate to the point that death was inevitable,” said the article. 18 other federal lawsuits with similar allegations have been filed against the medical company that provides care across PA prisons.

suicides in jail

Prisoners need help


Drug Overdoses in Jail


In 2021, for the second year in a row, life expectancy fell within the prison system, reported a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID and a spike in drug overdoses are some of the purported causes. Some experts say the rise in deaths is due to the toll incarceration takes on the body and mind, resulting in serious health conditions, says the article.

Sexual abuse and severe violence has been a result of rampant drug use throughout the prison system, specifically in Alabama, says Prisoners, many of whom were not associated with drug addiction, are becoming drug users while incarcerated, says the article, and many are dying because of it. From 2009 to 2019 the drug overdoses within the prison system increased fivefold, which is higher than the national rate, says PBS.

jail drug OD

Overdosing in jail


With lack of specific data across the board, the government is at a loss as to why so many deaths are occurring, how many deaths are occurring, and how to deal with future occurrences of deaths for in-custody inmates, says NPR. The incomplete data from in-custody deaths has spurred political action, said the article. President Biden signed an executive order requiring more transparency in policing, as well as accountability in criminal justice practices. In addition, Congress has passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act which aims to lessen the amount of preventable deaths.

Death In-Custody: Is Your Loved One a Victim?

Regardless of the cause, in-custody death is tragic. It is even worse when our loved ones were subject to medical neglect, violence or other unlawful harm while detained or in jail. At The Sehat Law Firm, our Southern California Civil Rights Attorneys focus on seeking justice for you on behalf of your loved one for excessive force that has resulted in serious injury or death, as well as for medical neglect in jail. Don’t wait to reach out to us as California does have a wrongful death statute of limitations. Please reach out to us today for a free consultation.


See our case results and jail death settlements.