Mortality After Prison Release

An empty cell, showing bed, window and sink.

Former prisoners are at elevated risk of death, particularly in the early postrelease period, compared to the population at large.



The Issue:
Little is known about risk factors and trends in postrelease mortality in the past decade, especially given general population increases in overdose deaths from pharmaceutical opioids.

This article examines causes of mortality for this vulnerable population.

Key Findings

  • All-cause mortality for recently released prisoners was 737 per 100,000 person years. Overdose was the leading cause of death, followed by disease, homicide, suicide and motor vehicle accidents.

  • Opioids were involved in 15 percent of all deaths. Pharmaceutical opioids were the most common substance implicated in deaths from overdose.

  • Women were more likely than men to die from overdose and opioid-related deaths.

Further interventions may be warranted to address the risks faced by recently released prisoners. Because the study was limited to one state, results may not be generalizable to all regions of the United States.

About the Study:
This study examined post-release mortality among 76,208 individuals released from prison between 1999 and 2009. Data from the Washington State Department of Corrections were combined with data from the National Death Index to identify cause of death for of recently released prisoners.