Journal of Correctional Health Care  |  June 2, 2023

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Millions of dollars are spent annually in private litigation against jails. This article analyzes a novel dataset developed from dockets and reports of cases filed against jails by the estates of individuals who died in jail custody. The total amount of plaintiffs’ awards represented in the sample was over $292,234,224. Cases attributing the cause of death to officer use of force had the highest average award ($2,243,079). Our findings suggest that suicide is still the most common cause of death for people in jail custody. Yet complications from a physical illness were not far behind, and nearly 20% of all cases in the sample were drug or alcohol related. In the first 24 hours of custody, people in jail were most at risk of drug-related deaths and suicide.

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