Editor's note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17, with new information from the state.
SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty state prison inmates died in 2017, including two due to drug-related causes, according to an annual report newly required by the Utah Legislature.
An 88-year-old inmate serving time for rape of a child died in a Utah State Prison infirmary of accidental Tylenol toxicity, said the Department of Corrections report, obtained with a public records request.
Corrections officers found a 65-year-old inmate dead in his cell of an accidental methamphetamine overdose, the report said. The man was imprisoned on murder and assault convictions.
Details about the two reported drug toxicity deaths were not immediately available. A state prison spokeswoman sand she had no information and referred a reporter to the state medical examiner's office. Autopsy reports are withheld from the public by state law unless a family member gives permission.
In Senate Bill 205, passed in March, the Legislature required county jails and the state prison system to submit a report by Aug. 1 each year listing deaths of those in custody and the causes. Lawmakers also ordered officials to document policies and procedures on how the institutions handle inmates who have overdosed on drugs or are withdrawing from addictions.
The legislative mandates followed heavy scrutiny of record high jail deaths — 25 statewide in 2016 — and consistently high rates in the state’s prisons. Utah ranked Nov. 4 nationally in the rate of prison deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2014, the most recent year for which federal statistics are available.
According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, Utah prisons reported 23 deaths in 2013 and an identical number the following year. There were 16 deaths in 2015 and 21 in 2016, said Kaitlin Felsted of the Utah Department of Corrections.
The Utah prison system had 6,488 inmates at the end of 2017, up 4.9 percent from 2016, the Vera Institute of Justice says.
Felsted said that as of Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Utah State Prison housed 2,997 inmates and the Central Utah Correctional Facility at Gunnison had 1,647. Hundreds more inmates are held at five community halfway houses.
Of the 20 deaths listed in the state’s 2017 report, seven were attributed to heart disease and four to cancer. Two suicides were reported, one by hanging and the other by toxic gas. Another death was classified as natural causes, another due to cirrhosis of the liver. The 20th case’s cause remains pending because it is under investigation.
The men’s ages ranged from 24, a cancer case, to the 89-year-old who died of natural causes.
Eight died in cell blocks — seven at the Draper prison and the other at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison — plus five in prison medical units and seven in hospitals.
Eleven of those who died were child sex offenders, three were murderers and one was a kidnapper and arsonist.
The department withheld inmates’ names, dates of birth and dates of death from the report, citing privacy concerns and the federal medical privacy law.
The state Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is compiling the state and county jail reports for presentation to legislators in November. Kim Cordova, justice commission executive director, said the final report will include aggregate information and little if any detail of individual cases.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, of Woods Cross, sponsor of SB 205, said he hopes the reports will give lawmakers a snapshot of inmate safety and health care issues for possible further legislation.