According to the United States Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 12,129 inmates died while in custody from 2001 through 2004. This meant an annual mortality rate of 250 deaths per 100,000 inmates, 19 percent lower than the adult mortality rate in the U.S. general population.
At first glance, this would actually mean going to prison was healthier because the chances of dying was smaller. On deeper analysis, one wonders whether the following factors leads to a false result:
1. Are terminally ill patients transferred out of prison for specialised medical treatment, thereby giving lesser deaths in prison?
2. Are executions counted?
3. Is the age distribution of prisoners younger than the general population? If so, this comparison would be invalid.
The misinterpretation of such statistics, in general, is legendary, where the persuasive power of figures are used to bolster weak or inaccurate arguments. The phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics” is testimony of the usage of numbers to falsely support erroneous conclusions.