Circumstances and causes of death among prisoners in France: The preponderance of violent deaths

By Aline Désesquelles, Annie Kensey, France Meslé, Beatrice van Hoorn Alkema

This study provides a full table of the mortality of prisoners in France. It is based on the 246 files archived at the French Ministry of Justice for individuals who died in 2011. Seven out of ten deaths were violent, primarily suicides and drug overdoses or medicinal poisonings. The analysis confirms excess mortality from suicide among male prisoners compared with the general population, as well as excess mortality due to other violent causes. Conversely, natural-cause mortality is lower among male prisoners than for males in the general population. The use of suspensions of sentence for medical reasons partly explains this result. For a given age group, the perpetrators of serious offences present a higher risk of death, whether due to violence or natural causes, than the perpetrators of less serious offences. The risk of violent death is also higher among pretrial detainees than among convicts. The description of the circumstances of death highlights the need for better alert systems and improved management of health incidents, especially at night.


  • prison
  • mortality
  • causes of death
  • suicide
  • violent deaths
  • France
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