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Assessing Inmate Cause of Death: Deaths in Custody Reporting Program and National Health Index

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2016
15 pages
Zhen Zeng; Margaret Noonan; E. Ann Carson; Ingrid Binswanger; Patrick Blatchford; Hope Smiley-McDonald; Chris Ellis
Publication Series
In order to address some of the weaknesses in the Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS') Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), this study examined whether the National Center for Health Statistics' (NCHS') National Death Index could be an alternative means of capturing cause-of-death (COD) data for inmate deaths in custody.
This report summarizes the results of these analyses and recommends ways to improve COD data by linking DCRP and NDI data. The study evaluated the feasibility of linking the DCRP data for the NDI database, and it assessed whether the DCRP was accurately capturing and measuring COD in custody, as well as whether the NDI could provide COD for DCRP cases missing this data. In addition, it determined whether the NDI could provide additional detail for illness deaths. The study concludes that an NDI search is a viable solution for BJS in reducing missing COD data not captured by the DCRP or in improving data quality. The NDI search provided COD information for 90 percent of the cases with missing data in the DCRP; however, relying exclusively on the NDI for COD is not recommended, because a subset of DCRP cases cannot be matched with NDI data, and some matches may be incorrect. The study methodology is described. 12 tables

Date Created: April 21, 2016