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PLoS Med. 2021 Sep 17;18(9):e1003789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003789. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Mortality during and after incarceration is poorly understood in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The need to address this knowledge gap is especially urgent in South America, which has the fastest growing prison population in the world. In Brazil, insufficient data have precluded our understanding of all-cause and cause-specific mortality during and after incarceration.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: We linked incarceration and mortality databases for the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul to obtain a retrospective cohort of 114,751 individuals with recent incarceration. Between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2018, we identified 3,127 deaths of individuals with recent incarceration (705 in detention and 2,422 following release). We analyzed age-standardized, all-cause, and cause-specific mortality rates among individuals detained in different facility types and following release, compared to non-incarcerated residents. We additionally modeled mortality rates over time during and after incarceration for all causes of death, violence, or suicide. Deaths in custody were 2.2 times the number reported by the national prison administration (n = 317). Incarcerated men and boys experienced elevated mortality, compared with the non-incarcerated population, due to increased risk of death from violence, suicide, and communicable diseases, with the highest standardized incidence rate ratio (IRR) in semi-open prisons (2.4; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.0 to 2.8), police stations (3.1; 95% CI: 2.5 to 3.9), and youth detention (8.1; 95% CI: 5.9 to 10.8). Incarcerated women experienced increased mortality from suicide (IRR = 6.0, 95% CI: 1.2 to 17.7) and communicable diseases (IRR = 2.5, 95% CI: 1.1 to 5.0). Following release from prison, mortality was markedly elevated for men (IRR = 3.0; 95% CI: 2.8 to 3.1) and women (IRR = 2.4; 95% CI: 2.1 to 2.9). The risk of violent death and suicide was highest immediately post-release and declined over time; however, all-cause mortality remained elevated 8 years post-release. The limitations of this study include inability to establish causality, uncertain reliability of data during incarceration, and underestimation of mortality rates due to imperfect database linkage.
CONCLUSIONS: Incarcerated individuals in Brazil experienced increased mortality from violence, suicide, and communicable diseases. Mortality was heightened following release for all leading causes of death, with particularly high risk of early violent death and elevated all-cause mortality up to 8 years post-release. These disparities may have been underrecognized in Brazil due to underreporting and insufficient data.