Deaths In State Prisons Have Decreased Over Past 2 Years


Deaths in state prisons have increased nationally over the past decade. In Wisconsin, deaths have decreased slightly over the past two years.

Cancer is the most common cause of death for state prisoners in Wisconsin. Seventeen inmates died of cancer in each of the last two years. James Greer, the director of medical services for the state Department of Corrections, says this is consistent with death rates for the non-incarcerated population and reflects the growing number of elderly inmates.

The number of prisoners over 60 years old has increased by 800 percent over the past two decades – from 130 in the ’90s to over 900 today. The increase, says Greer, can be partly attributed to truth in sentencing laws and longer sentences for drug offenses.

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“We are really seeing an increase in the elderly population, which really pushes the cancer disease issues,” says Greer. “It also pushed a lot of the health disease issues.”

Last year 12 inmates died of heart disease and three more have died this year. Greer says the department hopes to open new housing for elderly prisoners in Oshkosh for 65 men and at the Taycheedah women’s prison in Fond du Lac.

“We have some women in their 70s and 80s that are really struggling in the housing that we currently have for them,” says Greer.

Greer says the current national trend to reduce sentences and release terminally ill inmates may help reduce the number of prisoners dying in Wisconsin prisons.