What you need to know when (before) an inmate dies


When family members are notified by administrators from a department of corrections of an inmate death, it's essential they understand what authority they have with respect to all issues surrounding the deceased inmate's body and his/her personal belongings. More oftentimes than not, they have no information or understand the procedures regarding an inmate date. Making decisions without accurate information in any situation is irresponsible and unnecessary.

As a result of your lack of information on policy, procedure and protocols, in addition to poor, biased and ineffectual death investigations of inmate deaths, it's no surprise families attempt to do too little too late; and talk to the wrong individuals at the wrong time. As a result, evidence is often lost or destroyed that would support questionable practices, policies and procedures.

The Wrongful Death Institute & Injury Institute's consulting services provide key information and guidance regarding the handling of inmate deaths, investigation of those deaths, state autopsies and second (forensic) autopsies.

If you have been notified of an inmate death or death is imminent for an inmate there are specific issues you must address immediately. There are specific questions that must be asked. There are certain things that you should and should not do. It is vital that families understand the steps that need to be taken immediately when notified of an inmate death.

The Institute:

  • Enhances awareness and consults with families regarding key documents that should and should not be in place for the benefit of the inmate and his family.
  • Consults with families who must make 'quick' decisions regarding death issues in response to questions presented by State Departments of Correction when an inmate dies.
  • Researches death investigation practices within the State Departments of Correction and the State Medical Examiner systems as their contract vendors.

It is important that families understand:

  • Their authority regarding the control of the deceased inmate's body.
  • The scope of authority of State Departments of Correction upon an inmate's death--where it stops and where the family's begins.
  • Funeral home liability.
  • The issue of second autopsies and what is involved.
  • The issue of the inmate's personal belongings.

Do's and Don'ts

The following information is provided as a courtesy only, should you not be able to contact the Institute. It is not exhaustive information. It is basic information only. It is provided as a guideline of what you need to do and not do in order to obtain and/or retain control of the deceased's body.

Do not agree to allow the department of corrections to "take care of the inmate's funeral arrangements". This is a tactic that is used on many that do not have the finances to bury their loved one. Inmate deaths sometimes are sudden and unexpected. Funerals are expensive. Departments of correction are fully aware of the financial burden. If the death is perceived as a potential problem for the department of corrections, they may offer to "handle" the funeral arrangements for you. Say no. Their offer is not out of concern or sympathy. There is a reason they offer. Sympathy is not one of the reasons they do so. Specifically, if you agree to let the department handle the funeral arrangements the following can (may) happen:

  1. If you allow the department of corrections to "handle" the funeral arrangements, if you sign a cremation order or a burial order, you will automatically lose all rights to the deceased's body. It will now be in the control of the department of corrections. The body will be the property of the department.
  2. The inmate's correctional and medical records, all personal belongings will also be the property of the department of corrections. You will have no right to have them.
  3. You will not be allowed to bury your loved one.
  4. You will not be allowed to know where the department of corrections buries him/her. If they do. The body may be given over for research or science. You will never be able to visit their grave because you will not be told where it is.

The Wrongful Death & Injury Institute can assist you in navigating through the procedural landmines and pitfalls. What you don't know, refuse to know, and choose not to do could very well prevent you from ever knowing the facts surrounding the death of your loved one. And so unnecessary.

Contact us:
email: DeathInstitute@aim.com
Phone: 816.941.0087

Copyright 2011 Karen L. Russo - The Wrongful Death Institute & Forensic Science Associates. All Rights Reserved. These articles or pages may not be copied, transmitted, forwarded, reposted, or republished, in whole or in part, electronically or in any other format, without express written permission. This is not a solicitation for legal business. The Institute is not engaged in the practice of law. Mere contact through this website does not constitute a contract for representation. Wrongful Death Institute pages are designed and maintained by Four Boys Inc.