Following the insights of community partners at Dignity and Power Now, we have been researching how carceral environments produce premature deaths and how these deaths are bureaucratically and biomedically accounted for. In addition to data and forensic document analysis, we also conduct oral histories with those who have lost loved ones in LA county jail.

Approaching Deaths in Custody

  • Read through the autopsies of those who died in LA County Jail
  • Discover aspects to analyze (similarities, differences, things to research)
  • Build a protocol for how to analyze each variable
  • Build a dataset that can be used in analyses to gain valuable knowledge from the autopsies.

Skills Needed

  • Communication and documentation was necessary to keep everyone up to date and to recall decisions that had to be made over this long period (Fall 2020 – Spring 2023)
  • Consistent review of work
  • Worked in pairs to go through each autopsy entering data into the dataset
  • Validated the data in groups that worked at several related variables and checked those across all the autopsies
  • Clarified the content and standardized the format of the protocol
  • Any improvements (changes) to the protocol led to necessary changes in the dataset


  • Autopsies are not standardized
  • Learning a whole new world of terminology
  • Determining if aspects of the autopsies are worthwhile to the community to investigate them ourselves
  • Continuing and managing a longer project
  • Trying to get transparent answers to questions from the DMEC system
  • People come and go with a project that’s been going on a long time – which can impact the speed at which it progresses

Preliminary Report

A preliminary report of findings from the project came out in May 2022, with a publication to come in June 2023. You can access the report here.