Attorney General Bill Lockyer Releases Statewide Death In Custody Report

4,506 People Died While Under the Custody of Law Enforcement Between 1994 and 2003

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Contact: (415) 703-5837,

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today released the “Outlook: Death in Custody, California" report detailing statistics and important information about deaths in custody for the period between 1994 and 2003.

Pursuant to California law, the California Department of Justice has maintained death in custody information since 1980. The law provides that in any case in which a person dies while in the custody of any law enforcement or correctional agency the agency shall report in writing to the Attorney General, within 10 days after the death, the facts concerning the death. Although death in custody information is routinely provided to the public on request, an annual publication of the data in report form has not been possible due to limited resources. This report provides a brief overview for policymakers and the public of the facts regarding deaths in custody in California from 1994 through 2003, with a more detailed analysis for 2003.

This report includes: the number of deaths in custody; a comparison of deaths in custody to those in the general public; differences between racial/ethnic groups; locations where the death occurred; causes of death; and a comparison between people arrested and those who died in custody.
Among the report’s findings are:

• The rate of custody deaths decreased from 1994 to 2000 and then increased from 2000 to 2003.

• 55 percent of custody deaths occurred in prison, followed by county jails at 22.2 percent.

• 62 percent of custody deaths were from natural causes.

• In 2003, the most common means of death (excluding natural causes) was injury from hanging/strangulation (28.8 percent) followed by a firearm (22.4 percent) and drug overdose (20.1 percent).

• From 2000 to 2003, the rate of custody deaths for whites increased, while the rate for Hispanics and blacks remained the same.

The Death in Custody database is maintained by the California Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Statistics Center. The database contains descriptive information on persons who died while in the custody of a local or state law enforcement agency and the circumstances relating to the death. Approximately 550 deaths in custody are reported and processed each year. The Criminal Justice Statistics Center:

• Collects, analyzes, and reports statistical data which provide valid measures of crime and the criminal justice process throughout the state.
• Examines the data on an ongoing basis to describe crime and the criminal justice system.
• Promotes the responsible presentation and use of crime statistics.

Custody is defined as any point in time when a person’s freedom of movement has been denied by law enforcement, such as during transport prior to booking, during arrest, prosecution, sentencing, and correctional confinement.

The report is available at

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