A lot of people die behind bars each year in the United States. And the number is going up, according to the Justice Department.

The number of people who died in jail or prison increased in 2013, the third consecutive year of increase, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In state prisons, the cause of death is typically an illness. But in local jails, suicide is the leading cause of death, the new report states, and that has been the case each year since 2000.

One in three inmate deaths in a local jail was deemed a suicide in 2013, the report states, dramatically dwarfing the number of state prisoner deaths ruled suicides. Just 5.5 percent of state prisoner deaths are blamed on suicide, while nearly nine in 10 are blamed on an illness, usually cancer or heart disease. (About half of local jail deaths are blamed on an illness, though no single illness is named the cause as often as suicide.)

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We’ve discussed this issue very recently, as the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail last month drew national attention to the issue of people dying in jail. Authorities said her death was a suicide, but her family and friends have questioned it. (Her family just filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Texas state trooper and other state employees.)

Experts have said that jail suicides can be attributed, at least in part, to jails exacerbating suicidal behavior. As the National Institute of Corrections stated in a 2010 report on jail suicides:

From the inmate’s perspective, certain features of the jail environment enhance suicidal behavior: fear of the unknown, distrust of an authoritarian environment, perceived lack of control over the future, isolation from family and significant others, shame of incarceration, and perceived dehumanizing aspects of incarceration. In addition, certain factors are prevalent among inmates facing a crisis situation that could predispose them to suicide: recent excessive drinking and/or drug use, recent loss of stabilizing resources, severe guilt or shame over the alleged offense, current mental illness, prior history of suicidal behavior, and approaching court date.

An average of about a dozen inmates die behind bars each day, most of them in state prisons. The number of state prisoners dying while in custody reached its highest number in 2013 (3,479), the most for any year since the Justice Department began collecting these figures in 2001, the report states.

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In many ways, the number of inmates dying in state prisons points to a different issue: The prison population has exploded in the past few decades, and thanks in part to harsh sentences in the 1980s and 1990s, an increasing number of inmates are older.

Four out of five state prisoners who died in 2013 were at least 45; more than half of the prisoners who died were 55 or older. The number of state prisoners older than 55 has more than doubled between 2001 and 2013, and the number of prisoners who are older than 55 and are dying in custody has increased by an average of 8 percent each year since 2001.

Meanwhile, in local jails, the inmates who are dying have been held relatively briefly. The typical inmate who died had been in custody for less than a week.

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