Having a loved one die in prison is a heart-wrenching experience. The harsh realities and administrative hurdles of the prison system only compound ordinary feelings of grief.
In some cases, family members attempt to learn the circumstances surrounding the inmate’s death as a means of finding closure. Too often, they may face a long uphill battle.
Whom does the prison notify?
During the prison intake process, inmates usually create a list of designated contacts, including whom to contact if the inmate dies in custody. Prison staff attempt to contact the designated contact first. If that is unsuccessful, they attempt to contact a family member.
What happens to the person’s body?
The deceased person’s family or contact person must select between a private burial or cremation or burial or cremation at the prison. If the contact person or family opts for prison burial or cremation, the body remains in prison custody, though the family may request a visitation. If the family chooses a private funeral, the prison releases the body to the funeral director. If the family elects to donate the person’s body or organs, the prison immediately transports the body to the appropriate medical facility.
What if suspicious circumstances exist?
If the deceased person’s family believes his or her death occurred under suspicious circumstances, they must act quickly to preserve evidence. In a prison setting, both witnesses and video footage are likely to exist. If the family wants to open an investigation or file a claim, they have a very narrow window of time in which to file the appropriate notices.
The death of a loved one is always difficult, but it is particularly devastating in a prison setting. Many families never discover exactly what happened, and many do not understand how to get answers until it is too late.