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More People Are Dying in Custody. And More People Are Committing Suicide in Local Jails.

The Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Tex., where Sandra Bland died last month. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
The Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Tex., where Sandra Bland died last month. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

(The Washington Post) – A lot of people die behind bars each year in the United States. And the number is going up, according to the Justice Department.

The number of people who died in jail or prison increased in 2013, the third consecutive year of increase, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In state prisons, the cause of death is typically an illness. But in local jails, suicide is the leading cause of death, the new report states, and that has been the case each year since 2000.

One in three inmate deaths in a local jail was deemed a suicide in 2013, the report states, dramatically dwarfing the number of state prisoner deaths ruled suicides. Just 5.5 percent of state prisoner deaths are blamed on suicide, while nearly nine in 10 are blamed on an illness, usually cancer or heart disease. (About half of local jail deaths are blamed on an illness, though no single illness is named the cause as often as suicide.)

We’ve discussed this issue very recently, as the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail last month drew national attention to the issue of people dying in jail. Authorities said her death was a suicide, but her family and friends have questioned it. (Her family just filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Texas state trooper and other state employees.)

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