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Deaths in Police Custody: Learning the Lessons

NCJ Number
A Leigh; G Johnson; A Ingram
G Laycock
Date Published
108 pages
This research was initiated as a result of continuing concern about the number and circumstances of deaths in police custody in England and Wales; in total, 380 deaths in police custody were reported to the Home Office Between January 1990 and December 1996.
Excluding cases where police involvement appeared tangential or little information was available, 277 deaths in police custody were left for analysis. Deaths in police custody were relatively rare over the study period. An estimated 3.2 deaths per 100,000 arrests for notifiable offenses occurred between 1990 and 1997. The 277 deaths in police custody were categorized in terms of causal factors: deceased's own actions, deceased's medical condition, and another person's actions. The single most common cause of death was deliberate self-harm, accounting for about a third of cases. Substance abuse and medical conditions together accounted for another half of the deaths. Deaths that may have been associated with police restraint accounted for only 6 percent of the deaths. In many police restraint cases, other potential causal factors also came into play, such as the detainee's physical and medical condition and arrest circumstances. Most of those who died in police custody were white. Recommendations resulting from the analysis of the 277 deaths in police custody are offered that concern health and behavior checks, the completion of official records, communication, restraint, medical training for custody staff, detoxification and drying out centers, and closed circuit television and cell design. Appendixes provide further information on cases in which police actions may have been associated with deaths, ethnic classifications, and analysis procedures. 17 references, 35 tables, and 2 figures


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