Naturalizing unnatural death in Los Angeles County jails


In this paper we use quantitative and qualitative methods to examine how death investigations in Los Angeles County jails disproportionately naturalize death among Black and Latino incarcerated people. Our study is based on an assessment of 58 autopsies, coroner investigator narratives, and toxicology reports produced between 2009 and 2018. We found that the Medical Examiner frequently arrived at natural or undetermined death determinations that minimized the culpability of carceral staff for loss of life that occurred within county jail. In our dataset, Black people were disproportionately classified as natural. Undetermined deaths were almost exclusively Latino. More than 75% of the cases in our study were deaths that occurred before standing trial. Our findings reveal how biomedical knowledge about incarcerated Black and Latino people is used to erase the life‐diminishing effects of punishment, neglect, and maltreatment that are central to the project of mass incarceration.