Death in custody

A death in custody is a death of a person in the custody of the police, other authorities or in prison. In the early 21st century, death in custody remains a controversial subject, with the authorities often being accused of abuse, neglect, racism and cover-ups of the causes of these deaths.[1][2]

By country


See Human rights in Algeria


See Human rights in Argentina


In Australia, deaths in custody automatically trigger an inquest.[3]


At least 32 people have died in "Operation Clean Heart" by the government of Bangladesh.See Human rights in Bangladesh


See Insein Prison, Human rights in Burma


See Human rights in Chad


See Human Rights in China.


See Human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo


See Human rights in Cuba


See Human rights in Egypt


At least 460 people have died in police custody since 1990. About 20 people die in police custody a year, down from 28-30 per year in the nineties.[4]



See Police encounter


See Cipinang Penitentiary Institution


See 1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners and Deaths in custody in Iran


See Terence Wheelock


"At least 650 people have been killed by police officers in Jamaica since 1999. Many of these have been blatantly unlawful killings, yet not one officer has been convicted since then." Piers Bannister, Amnesty International’s Jamaica researcher.


See Human rights in Japan


See Human rights in Laos


See Abu Salim prison



See Human rights in Mexico


See Human rights in Morocco

The Netherlands

See Milan Babić#Death, Death of Slobodan Milošević.

North Korea

See Human rights in North Korea


About 40 people have died in police custody over a period of 20 years following 1990. [5] Additionally there's been 45 suicides in custody over a 10 year period from 2008. [6]


See Human rights in Pakistan


See Sergei Magnitsky; Salman Raduyev.

Saudi Arabia

See Human rights in Saudi Arabia


See Human rights in Somalia

South Africa

South Africa has an unusually high level of deaths in custody. For example, in April to June 1997, there were 56 deaths in custody.[7]


See Human rights in Sudan


See Tadmor Prison massacre


See Prisons in Turkey


See Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

United Kingdom

United States

Definition of custody

The term "in custody" has been debated in both California v. Beheler[8] (in regards to what constitutes custody in the requirement to read Miranda rights) but also in other federal court cases related to Miranda law and definition of custody.[9] Although Miranda law has roughly defined custody as the "formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement,"[8] colloquial language may be less restrictive in the use of custody and is thus sometimes difficult to distinguish from the process of arrest. In addition to collecting data on those who have died in custody, the Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks all deaths related to arrest. This aids in collecting data from the fringes of custody or attempts to arrest an individual.[10]

Causes of death

The causes for death in police custody may range from suspected homicide by members of the police, killings by other inmates, death due to psychological or physical abuse, capital punishment, to suicide, accidental death, or natural causes.[11][12] The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics collects data regarding both the cause of death, as well as medical and criminal records of those that die in police custody (restricted to those in federal prison and local jails).[11]


The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 17,358 individuals in custody died during the period from 2007-2010.[13] Other publications focus on the rate per 100,000. US jails report deaths that total a mortality rate of 128, and prisons at 264 per 100,000.[14] There are differences in methodology used to obtain these statistics, as some jurisdictions include deaths during attempted arrests, while others do not.

Other research has focused on specific states, such as Maryland and the rate of death by identity (gender, race, age).[15] Based on some findings, African-American males appear to be over-represented as victims of sudden custody deaths. Further research with larger sample sizes is necessary.[15]

Watchdog organizations

The Marshall Project collects and produces reports on police killings as well as maintaining a curated list of links to articles and publications related to death in police custody in the United States.[16]

Selected persons who have died in custody

Foreign custody by American agents (police, military, etc.)

International custody law

There are numerous laws and international treaties regarding treatment of foreigners, especially during wartime, of which the Geneva Convention is the most widely recognized and internationally ratified. It contains provisions that classify and define both prisoners of war (as well as civilians and the wounded or infirm) and the manner in which they are to be treated.[19] These include but are not limited to: murder, mutilation, hostage taking, and outrages upon personal dignity.[20] These ratified documents are the base of US international custody law and can be seen to be misapplied in some of the proceeding cases.

Examples of persons who have died in custody


See Human rights in Vietnam


See Human rights in Yemen


See Human rights in Zimbabwe

See also


  1. "Death behind bars". 2002-11-12. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  2. Stefan Fruehwald; Patrick Frottier. "Death behind bars" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  3. Davidson, Helen; Allam, Lorena; Wahlquist, Calla; Evershed, Nick (30 August 2018). "'People will continue to die': coroners' 'deaths in custody' reports ignored". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  4. "Suomessa sattuu putkakuolemia parikymmentä vuodessa - Putkakuolemat - Kotimaa - Helsingin Sanomat". Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  5. "Politiet siktet etter dødsfall på glattcelle". (in Norwegian). 2009-05-12. Retrieved 2019-02-24.
  6. "45 selvmord i norske fengsler på ti år". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2019-02-24.
  7. "Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation". Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  8. "California v. Beheler". Find Law. March 14, 2017.
  9. Holcomb, Jayme (February 20, 2016). "When does handcuffing constitute custody for purposes of Miranda". FBI.
  10. "Arrest related deaths". Bureau of Justice Statistics. March 14, 2017.
  11. "Data Collection: Deaths In Custody Reporting Program (DCRP)". Bureau of Justice Statistics. March 14, 2017.
  12. Ross, Darrell (2006). Sudden Deaths in Custody. Totowa, N.J.: Humana Press. pp. 15–138. ISBN 978-1-58829-475-3.
  13. Zheng, Zhen (2016). "Assessing Inmate Cause of Death" (PDF). Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  14. Heide, Steffen (2016). "Deaths in Police Custody". Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. 57: 109–114. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2016.01.026. PMID 29801944.
  15. Southall, Pamela (2008). "Police custody deaths in Maryland, USA: An examination of 45 cases". Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. 15 (4): 227–230. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2007.10.005. PMID 18423355.
  16. "Death in Police Custody". The Marshall Project. February 12, 2017.
  17. "CRRJ Provides First Full Account of Notorious 1947 Georgia Jailhouse Killing", Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, 2016
  18. CBS/Associated Press (AP), "3 Calif. jail guards found guilty in death of mentally ill inmate", CBS News, 01 June 2017; accessed 20 October 2018
  19. Kim, Jonathan (July 2016). "Geneva Conventions". Cornell University Law School.
  20. "Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949". International Committee of the Red Cross. March 15, 2017.
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