After years of reporting, Reuters has released a first-of-its-kind national database of deaths in local jails, offering a unique resource for news organizations looking to examine inmate mortality in the facilities they cover. Next Wednesday, Peter Eisler and Grant Smith share how they gathered and cleaned the data and how you can use it for your own reporting and analysis.
The training will be at 1 p.m. Eastern on February 24, and you can register for free here. Can’t make it? We’ll post a recording once we’ve wrapped up on MuckRock and share it via our newsletter.
The data, gleaned from more than 1,500 public records requests, includes details on more than 7,500 inmate deaths from 2008-2019 – every fatality reported by more than 500 of the nation’s jails, including the 10 largest local jails in each state and every jail in the country with an average population of 750 or more inmates.
The downloadable data is organized by state and county, and it includes information such as race, cause of death and custody status for each deceased inmate. The data can be used to compare a local jail’s death rate to other jails in the region or across the country, as well as to identify mortality trends, such as spikes in suicides or drug and alcohol deaths.
The federal government has collected this sort of data for more than two decades, but statutory restrictions bar its release to the public, so Reuters decided to build its own, publicly available database. This marks the first time reporters have been able to systematically review mortality data from their local jails and compare death rates among different facilities across states and in various parts of the country.
During the discussion, Eisler and Smith will share their records process, steps on how they cleaned and analyzed the data, and share potential story ideas that you can take back to your newsroom. In the meantime, you can download the data here, either in bulk or on a state-by-state basis.
Header image by Thomas Hawk and licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0