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As Oklahoma inmate population ages, more die in custody, Corrections Department records show

Most of the 205 inmates who have died during the past three years while in Oklahoma Corrections Department custody have done so of natural causes, department records show.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: August 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm •  Published: August 27, 2012

Most of the 205 inmates who died over the past three years while in Oklahoma Corrections Department custody did so of natural causes, a trend that likely will continue as the prison system's population grows older.

The manner of death in 155 of those cases has been deemed “natural” by the state medicalexaminer.

Natural deaths represent 75.6 percent of such cases, prison records show.

And despite being filled with thousands of violent criminals, homicides account for only 7.3 percent of deaths over the three-year span.

Only 15 of the inmates' deaths were described as “homicides,” a figure that includes prisoners executed by the state.

There were 14 inmate suicides reported by the Corrections Department since 2010, making it the third-most common way prisoners die while in state custody.

Thirteen of the deaths on the list provided to The Oklahoman by the Corrections Department were described as “pending,” most of them occurring within the last year or so.

In fact, Corrections Department records show that 11 of the 53 documented inmate deaths this year are listed as “pending.”

Since the start of 2010, prison system documents show that seven inmates' deaths were described as accidental, while just one inmate died under mysterious circumstances.

The manner of the death for Jimmy Gilbert, who died Aug. 9, 2011, at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, is listed as “unknown.”

Gilbert was 48, according to a death notice in The Oklahoman three days after he died.

In 2010, only 63 inmates died in the Corrections Department's custody.

The next year, in 2011, another 89 would die while behind bars, records show.

So far this year, there have been 53 inmate deaths.

The last to die was Michael Hooper, who was executed Aug. 14 for murdering a mother and her two children in 1993.

Aging inmates

Prison records show that in-custody deaths could rise in the future as more and more inmates grow into their advanced years while behind bars.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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