What Happens When an Inmate Dies in Custody?

What Happens When an Inmate Dies in Custody?

Did you know there are around two million people in jails and prisons across the country? That number has increased 500% over the previous 40 years. 

Many people know someone who has served or is currently serving a sentence in prison. It can be a challenging time if your loved one is incarcerated. Things can become more complicated if that person passes away while in prison. 

You might wonder, "what happens when an inmate dies in custody?" The procedure varies from prison to prison and isn't standardized. However, there are a few ways that prisons usually handle an inmate's death. 

This guide will discuss everything you need to know about what happens when an inmate dies in custody. 

What Happens When an Inmate Dies in Custody?

In the event of inmate death, their manner of death is reviewed. The prison will want to determine if they died of natural, suspicious, or violent causes. The Department of Correction (DOC) will issue a press release that includes the following:

  • Inmate's name
  • Details surrounding the death 
  • Time of death 
  • Information about their sentence
  • Previous residence 

The release typically won't include the cause of death. The inmate's body will then get released to their next of kin for funeral preparations. 

There are a few reasons a person might die while in custody. Common causes of death include:

  • Capital punishment
  • Suicide
  • Natural causes
  • Accidental death 
  • Death caused by physical or psychological abuse
  • Killed by another inmate 

Some consider the way family members and friends are notified about an inmate dying to be inhumane. Many people receive text messages, voicemails, or emails telling them their loved one passed away. 

Who Gets Notified When an Inmate Dies? 

During intake, a prisoner provides a list of contacts. They'll also designate who they want to handle their remains if they die in prison. This person doesn't have to be a family member. 

When an inmate dies, the prison will call this individual. If they can't get ahold of the designated person, they'll notify the next of kin. 

The designated person can decide if they want to take responsibility for the inmate's body. The friends or family of the inmate are responsible for organizing an inmate's burial or cremation. The funeral home will transport the body from the prison to the next location. 

What Happens to an Inmate's Body?

How an inmate dies will dictate what happens to their body. If it is from natural causes or an illness, the body can get released. However, if the death was suspicious, the body might not get released until an investigation has concluded. 

In some circumstances, the prison might take control of the body if the next of kin or designated contact doesn't let the prison know their funeral or inmate cremation plans. County regulations will dictate how prisons can dispose of an inmate's body. Typically this includes inmate burial or cremation. 

Sometimes the inmate's friends or family don't have the funds to plan a funeral. In these cases, the prison might handle disposing of the body. 

Where Do Prisoners Get Buried?

Inmates that don't get claimed by their friends or family are sometimes buried in prison cemeteries. Death row inmates who were executed are also buried in these cemeteries. 

Should I Contact an Attorney?

There are a few reasons you might consider contacting an attorney if a loved one passes away in prison. The inmate might've had a severe medical condition for which they didn't get medical care. Their death might've been suspicious and not adequately investigated by the prison. 

A qualified attorney has the skills and expertise to investigate an inmate's death if you have cause for concern. They can review the following:

  • Video surveillance
  • Medical records
  • Applicable procedures and policies 

An attorney can also gather evidence from medical experts and correctional officers. 

Can an Inmate Donate Their Body to Science?

Some inmates decide to donate their organs or bodies to science if they pass away in prison. Loved ones can also make this decision after an inmate passes away. There isn't an additional cost to friends or family members if this is the route they choose. 

How Do Different States Handle Inmate Deaths?

There isn't one standardized answer for what happens when an inmate passes away. Local laws play a part in how the event is handled. 

For example, New York state has strict codes and procedures for how the next of kin needs to get notified. If 48 hours have passed and they haven't been located, the prison can plan a funeral, cremation, or burial. 

In situations where prisons think they can contact the next of kin after 48 hours have passed, they can continue trying to make contact. Once seven days have passed, they can start planning for a funeral. 

In Ohio, prisons must attempt to notify an inmate's next of kin. An inmate can write a declaration about who they want to claim their body if they die. 

The prison can contact other individuals if the person can't claim the body or the inmate doesn't make the declaration. These individuals can include children, spouses, or other close contacts. 

The prison can make arrangements for the body if the allotted time period has passed. However, according to state law, a prison can only cremate a person if an autopsy confirms that they died of natural causes. They can't be cremated if there's any question about their causes of death. 

Easily Access Inmate Information for Your Loved One

So, what happens when an inmate dies in custody? Most prisons will notify family members or friends of the inmate as quickly as possible. Loved ones who want to have a funeral for the inmate can do so. 

If you know someone incarcerated, it might be challenging to find out information about them. Jail Exchange provides a convenient location to review county, state, and federal records. Contact us today if you need help finding an inmate.