Retrospective analysis of 172 cases of custodial deaths in China between 1999 and 2016: forensic experience in China

  • Shifan Wu
  • Liang Ren
  • Meichen Pan
  • Xingang Qiu
  • Zijiao Ding
  • Yunyun Wang
  • Liang LiuEmail author
  • Qian LiuEmail author


Custodial deaths refer to the death of an individual who is in prison, a detention center, or a police station. The present study aims to retrospectively analyze cases of custodial deaths examined at Tongji Medico Legal Expertise Center in Hubei (TMECH). A total of 172 out of 5853 cases were screened at TMECH from January 1999 to December 2016. Male preponderance was observed in 172 cases (male–female ratio: 5:1). Natural deaths accounted for the majority (70.93%), followed by suicide (16.28%), accidents (3.49%), homicides (4.65%), and undetermined causes (4.65%). The most common natural cause was cardiovascular disease. Custodial deaths occurred more frequently in prisons and detention houses than in police cells (63%, 63%, and 46%, respectively). Among the 172 cases, 105 deaths occurred after resuscitation failure despite the individual being sent to the hospital. The average age across cases was 36.3 years, and 90% of the deceased were aged under 50 years. Since there is no officially reported data regarding the prevalence of causes and manners of custodial deaths in China, our analysis contributes to enhancing the understanding of such deaths in central China and serves as a reference for law enforcement to develop a prevention program to reduce incidents of mortality in custody.


Forensic science Forensic pathology Custodial death Detainee 



We thank the family of the deceased for their contribution to this work and all those helped with data collection.

Funding information

This study was funded by the Open Project of Liu Liang Studio at Chong Xin Medico-legal Identification Center, Hubei Province, China. (No. CXLL20170007).

Compliance with ethical standards

The study was approved by the ethics committee of Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology. All data were authorized by TMECH for this study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forensic MedicineTongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and TechnologyWuhanPeople’s Republic of China

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