BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
Deaths in Custody Statistical Tables

Methodology

BJS Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP) – Local jail inmate death data

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) began collecting inmate death records from jail jurisdictions nationwide in December 2000 to implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 (PL 106-297). Data on inmate deaths were requested at the end of each calendar quarter (form CJ-9 for local jails, form CJ-10 for private or multi-jurisdictional jails). Jails were also asked to submit inmate population and admission counts at the end of each calendar year which allowed for the calculation of inmate mortality rates (forms CJ-9A and CJ-10A). As part of the yearend collection of population data, jails were asked for a yearend count of inmate deaths which were reconciled with quarterly reports to identify missing records. Jails with missing death records were asked to submit the records on a separate quarterly death report form.

Jails were instructed to report the death of any inmate in their custody, even if the inmate was held for other jurisdictions, such as the state department of corrections, another state or county, or the federal government. Jails were also instructed to include the death of any inmate sent outside the jail facility for medical, mental health or substance abuse treatment services or for work-release programs. Deaths that occurred while an inmate was in transit to or from the jail facility were included. Deaths of jail inmates who were released on temporary furloughs or who had escaped the jail facility were excluded.

From the beginning of the collection in 2000, as agent for BJS, the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau collected both the quarterly death records and the yearend collection of population and admissions data from all jail jurisdictions nationwide. If a final determination of cause of death could not be made at the time of reporting, respondents were asked to indicate that autopsy reports were pending. Jurisdictions with incomplete records were contacted again over the following 12 months to obtain final cause of death data. In each year (2000 through 2006), at least 99% of the more than 3,000 jail jurisdictions nationwide responded to the collection.

For local jail survey forms, see Deaths in Custody survey questionnaires.


BJS Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP) – State prisoner death data

BJS began collecting inmate death records from state prison authorities nationwide in 2001 to implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 (PL 106-297). State departments of correction were asked to submit a quarterly report of all deaths at the end of each calendar quarter. States were also asked to submit a quarterly summary count of deaths (form NPS-4) and an individual report of each inmate death (form NPS-4A). If a final determination of cause of death could not be made at the time of reporting, respondents were asked to indicate that autopsy reports were pending. Jurisdictions with incomplete records were contacted again over the following 12 months to obtain final cause of death data. 

State prisons were instructed to report the deaths of any inmate in their custody, even if the inmate was held for other jurisdictions, such as a county jail, another state, or the federal government. State prisoner death counts include the death of any inmate held in a private prison facility under contract to the state’s department of correction. Deaths of inmates in private facilities were counted in the state that had jurisdiction over the inmate, not the state where the private facility was located.

State prisons were also instructed to include the death of any inmate sent outside the prison facility for medical, mental health or substance abuse treatment services or for work-release programs. Deaths that occurred while a state prisoner was in transit to or from the prison were included. Deaths of state prisoners who were released on temporary furloughs or who had escaped the prison facility were excluded. All execution deaths were excluded from the collection because capital punishment cases are already tracked under the National Prisoners Statistics program.

This data collection was conducted by BJS staff during 2001 and 2002 and by data collection staff of Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau for BJS since 2003. In each year (2001 through 2006), all 50 state departments of correction responded to the collection. The District of Columbia submitted data for its prison population until transferring all of their custody operations to the Federal Bureau of Prisons during 2001. Federal prisons are not covered by PL 106-297 and these tables do not include mortality data on federal prisoners.

For state prisoner survey forms, see Deaths in Custody survey questionnaires.


BJS Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP) – State and local law enforcement arrest-related death data


The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-297) required the U.S. Department of Justice to begin a quarterly collection of individual death records for all persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, as well as “any person who is in the process of arrest.” The act linked eligibility for funds under the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth In Sentencing (VOI/TIS) grant programs to reporting death records to the Attorney General. At the time the law was enacted, all 50 states and the District of Columbia participated in the VOI/TIS grant programs. The act did not apply to federal law enforcement agencies or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Identifying State-level data providers

In developing the collection of arrest-related death records, BJS staff contacted multiple offices in each state to determine the appropriate reporting contact. While each state was required to report these death records as a condition of eligibility for VOI/TIS grant funds, the grants were awarded to state departments of correction. In developing the collection, BJS did not find any state correctional authorities that collected information on the operations of law enforcement agencies in their state.

At the time the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed, only two states (California and Texas) collected information on all types of arrest-related deaths. For the remaining 48 states and the District of Columbia, the new DCRP collection was the first attempt to perform a comprehensive count of all arrest-related deaths.

In California and Texas, state statutes required the reporting of all arrest-related deaths to the state attorney general’s office. These offices agreed to complete statewide reports of arrest-related deaths for submission to BJS. In all other jurisdictions, BJS worked with state officials to determine which agency would collect arrest-related death reports.

A state criminal justice commission, commonly administered by the governor’s office, was the most common data reporting contact (22 states), followed by the state attorney general and state police department (8 states each). In five states, the department of corrections took a lead role in compiling records because of the VOI/TIS grant funding. In over 30 states, the reporting office also served as a state criminal justice Statistical Analysis Center (SAC).

Agencies reporting DCRP
arrest-related death records


 

 

All data providers

48

   

State criminal justice commission

22

State attorney general

8

State police/highway patrol

8

State department of correction

5

State medical examiner

3

State department of public safety

1

State office of financial management

1

While every state identified a data provider, three states — Georgia, Maryland, and Montana — never submitted records. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia participated in the collection at some point, but the participation of some states varied by year. A total of 43 states participated in 2003, 45 states participated in both 2004 and 2005, and 43 states participated in 2006. The District of Columbia submitted records in all four years. For a summary of state reporting coverage, see statistical tables 7 and 9.

Many of the arrest-related deaths undergo lengthy investigations by prosecutors, police departments, and coroner’s offices to determine a cause of death or decide a legal disposition of the case. It took up to 15 months to finalize cause of death information for some cases. Multiple contacts were made to the state data providers to complete missing items and receive a final cause of death.

Data sources for state reporters

Regardless of which state office ultimately took the lead in compiling the death records, most states utilized multiple data sources in this effort. Of the 47 states that participated at some point, 42 used multiple sources of information on arrest-related deaths, while 30 states reported at least 3 different sources of data. (For a detailed listing of reporting methods used by each state, see pages 9 and 10 of the online version of the BJS Special Report, Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005.)

State and local law enforcement agencies were the most common source of data used by state reporters. Law enforcement agencies voluntarily reported arrest-related deaths to 40 data providers. In California and Texas, law enforcement agencies were required by state law to submit arrest-related death records. The Metropolitan Police Department was the only source of arrest-related data for the District of Columbia.

Thirty states used media searches to identify arrest-related deaths and followed up with a data request to the law enforcement agency involved in the incident. In some cases when the agency did not respond to this information request, the state contact used the media accounts of the death to complete the DCRP questionnaire. Twenty-three states involved county coroners or the state medical examiner’s office in compiling these records, and 19 states involved the state police. Nine states used their Uniform Crime Reporting office, and 6 states collected information from prosecutors’ offices. Seven states used other resources or agencies in compiling these reports.

Defining deaths “in the process of arrest”

BJS had to define the term “in the process of arrest,” specified in the Death in Custody Reporting Act (PL 106-297). BJS staff consulted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and criminal justice researchers to identify which circumstances involved an “arrest process.”

All deaths of persons in the physical custody or under the physical restraint of law enforcement officers were included. This resulted in the reporting of 102 deaths over four years in which no criminal charges were involved. Law enforcement responses to people exhibiting mental health problems accounted for 58 of these cases, while another 12 cases involved persons who had to be restrained by police for medical transportation. In another 32 cases, the reason for law enforcement involvement was not specified, but the record indicated that no criminal charges were involved. The deaths of any other persons not subject to an attempted arrest were excluded, including bystanders and law enforcement officers killed during an attempted arrest.

State contacts were instructed to include all deaths resulting from use of force by law enforcement officers. Arrest-related suicides were also included in this collection, provided that law enforcement officers were in some type of contact with the arrest subject prior to the suicide. For example, if an armed suspect was surrounded by officers and chose to take his own life rather than surrender, the death would be included. However, if an offender was actively sought by police but committed suicide before the police located him, the death would be excluded. The reason for the exclusion is that no officers were present at the time of death to attempt an arrest.

Vehicular accident deaths that were not specifically related to arrest activities were excluded from the collection. States were instructed to include vehicular accident deaths only when law enforcement officers actively took some role in causing the accident during an arrest attempt. This included shooting at the vehicle or driver or forcing the vehicle off the road with a police vehicle or other obstructions (such as a spike strip to blow out tires or a roadblock). All other vehicular deaths were excluded.

States were also instructed to disregard whether an arrest warrant had been issued. Because officers frequently make arrests in response to unexpected events, requiring an arrest warrant would leave many arrest-related deaths unreported. Likewise, states were told to exclude the deaths of persons who had arrest warrants issued against them that were not enforced. For example, if an offender had a bench warrant issued for their arrest, but later died before any officers attempted to enforce this arrest warrant, the state was told to exclude that record. In such cases, the arrest warrant indicated an administrative criminal justice status and not an attempt to bring the subject into custody.

Deaths of arrestees were subject to the data collection from the time police encountered them in the field until the time they were booked into a local jail facility. This included deaths of arrest subjects who died at medical facilities due to injuries or medical problems, as well as any persons who died in transit from an arrest scene in a police vehicle or ambulance. All deaths in jails are reported to BJS under a separate DCRP collection with different questionnaires.

Once records of arrest-related deaths were submitted to BJS, the forms were reviewed to ensure that each case met the established guidelines. BJS staff and the state contacts routinely discussed and resolved cases that were ambiguous or appeared to involve circumstances that would exclude them from the collection. Since the publication of the report Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005, BJS has also undertaken an intensive review of DCRP jail death records to search for records reported to multiple DCRP collections. This review identified 26 arrest-related death records submitted during the 2003-2005 period that were also reported as jail inmate deaths (1.3% of the 2,002 deaths reported). In the interest of avoiding double-counts of the same events, these deaths have been excluded from the statistical tables presented for the 2003-2006 period. As a result, counts of deaths presented in the statistical tables for 2003-2005 may not match those published earlier.

Other national measures of arrest-related deaths


While DCRP is the only national statistical program that measures all types of arrest-related deaths, two other national programs measure law enforcement homicides. Law enforcement agencies can submit Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) also compiles mortality statistics, including a category for law enforcement homicides. For a detailed discussion of these resources and how their measures of arrest-related deaths differ from the DCRP, please see the BJS Special Report, Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005.

For state and local law enforcement arrest-related death survey forms, see Deaths in Custody survey questionnaires.