A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, released Wednesday, provides new evidence that deaths, and particularly suicides, in state prisons are a common and increasing phenomenon in the United States.
The study recorded a total of 4,446 deaths in state prisons and local jails in 2013, which is an an increase of 131 deaths since 2012 and the highest number since 2007.
Suicide was found to be the leading cause of death (34 percent) and occurred mainly while in custody for fewer than seven days (40 percent).
In 2012 a vast majority (73.2 percent) of inmates who died in jail had not been convicted for any crime.
The study offers new evidence surrounding the controversial case of Sandra Bland, a Black Lives Matter activist who was found dead in police custody earlier in July, after she was stopped, threatened and violently assaulted by Texas Trooper Brian Encinia. Her death was ruled a suicide by police officials, a version that is contested by both family relatives and anti-police brutality activists.
According to the report people of color made up 46 percent of jail deaths and 87 percent were male. In addition, one third of jail deaths occurred in California and Texas.
“Black and brown Americans are twice as likely to be held pretrial because they can’t pay bail, which is often set under US$1,000,” Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director at the Pretrial Justice Institute, told Fusion. “Compound that with the fact that you’re more likely to be stopped and arrested, and you start to see the scope of the problem.”
The most recent reported deaths of people of color held in custody are Native American activist Rexdale Henry, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman, and Ralkina Jones.