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Incarcerated population in India: how many are dying? How are they dying?

Usha Ram (Department of Public Health and Mortality Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India.)
Prakash Kumar (International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India.)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 28 May 2021




This study aims to examine sociodemographic characteristics, levels and patterns of mortality experiences amongst Indian prisoners over the past two decades (1998–2018).


This study used prison statistics in India to analyze occupancy rate, percentage distribution, annual/decadal change, male–to–female ratios, prison mortality rate and causes of natural/unnatural deaths.


During 1998–2018, prisons in India grew by 18% and prisoners by 69%, leading to overcrowded jails. Males outnumbered female prisoners. Seventy percent of prisoners had an educational attainment level lower than 10th grade. In 2018, over 14 per 1,000 prisoners suffered from a mental illness and 384 per 100,000 died. Unnatural deaths accounted for 8%–11% of all prisoner deaths; 84% were by suicide. Illness accounted for 95% of all natural deaths in 2018; one–quarter was due to heart diseases.

Research limitations/implications

The study did not establish an association between sociodemographic characteristics with mental illness and mortality due to the non-availability of data.

Social implications

The pattern of a deteriorating living environment, rise in mental illnesses and mortality among Indian prisoners calls for immediate action from the authorities to protect them. Almost all unnatural deaths were by suicide (mostly by hanging). This detailed study would help authorities to take corrective measures for prisoner safety and well-being. There is also a need to develop a scientific database for this population.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to examine morbidity and mortality experiences of the prisoner population using national statistics.



The authors take this opportunity to thank the unknown reviewers and members, Editorial team for their valuable comments and suggestions which immensely enhanced the quality of our work.


Ram, U. and Kumar, P. (2021), "Incarcerated population in India: how many are dying? How are they dying?", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 171-186.



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