Volume 32, Issue 6 (November 1987)
Police Custody: Deaths and Medical Attention
Information was obtained from all the county constabularies regarding deaths and medical attention given to those in police custody. It was presumed that this information covered all deaths in custody in Denmark during the period 1981 through 1985. There is no apparent increase in the absolute number of deaths during detention during the period 1969 through 1985. The number of deaths occurring in custody in relation to the annual number of persons incarcerated has fallen during the period 1955 through 1985. Simultaneously, a marked rise has occurred in the number of persons held in police custody. During the period 1981 through 1985, 7.9 persons were incarcerated per 1000 population per year. One homicide and nineteen other deaths occurred. The most frequent cause of death was asphyxiation as a result of aspiration of gastric contents during alcohol intoxication, drug poisoning, and intracranial hemorrhage. A physician had been consulted but had not diagnosed the seriousness of the condition in 42% of the deaths. All the deceased were men, and all suffered from the effects of social, psychiatric, and physical diseases. The lethality evaluated from hospitalized clients with the same type of life-threatening conditions was found to be 25%. A discussion is presented of the costs which will be incurred if a large group of those kept in police custody were admitted to hospital. Similarly, changes in the present arrangements are suggested that could ensure a greater certainty of avoiding deaths in detention.