Cancer is the leading cause of death in Washington state prisons.

Between 2001 and 2019, the Washington penal system recorded 674 prison fatalities. About a third of those were attributable to cancer.

(The next leading killer was heart disease, which incidentally kills more nonoffenders in the U.S. than any other malady.)

This is according to findings published by Connecticut Trial Firm, LLC, which specializes in personal injury law.

Using data obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Connecticut Trial Firm sought to deduce the precise nature and frequency of prison fatalities. With this information in hand, the firm then calculated the prison mortality rate per 100,000 state residents.

Washington inmates die at a rate of 8.7 per 100,000 people - among the lowest in the country. For comparison's sake, Louisiana, home of the notorious Angola facility, has a prison mortality rate of 42.7 per 100,000.

State-level data is inconclusive, but nationwide, men are far more likely to die in custody; they account for roughly 96 percent of prison fatalities.

Seniors in prison are uniquely vulnerable. Prison fatalities disproportionately involve older inmates.

City and county jails, which house the accused as well as short-term inmates, average about 17 fatalities per year in Washington, according to the study.

Ryan McKeen is CEO and cofounder of Connecticut Trial Firm. In a statement earlier this month, McKeen stressed that prison mortality studies are "crucial for upholding human rights standards."

"Examining patterns and causes of prison deaths enables authorities to implement preventative measures," McKeen added. "Whether it involves addressing mental health issues, improving sanitation or enhancing safety protocols, understanding the root causes or mortality allows for targeted interventions to mitigate risks and save lives."

Rally for Elias Mora-Ontiveros at Chelan County Jail

On May 11, the Ontiveros family came together to rally against the recent release of one of the suspects alleged to be involved in the murder of Elias Mora-Ontiveros.

Gallery Credit: Terra Sokol

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