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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prisoner statistics fun

A Palestinian Arab organization has released the shocking information that 197 Arab prisoners have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, thus proving Israeli human rights violations against its Arab prisoners.

Terrible!

Until you look at the normal mortality rate for Palestinian Arabs. According to the UN, the normal mortality rate is 3.7 per thousand. if we assume that Israel has imprisoned an average of 5000 Arabs (probably a low number) at any time over the past 42 years, then the number of expected deaths over that time period would be 777.

Ah, but you might object, prisoners are usually young and healthy, and their mortality rates should be much less than the general population!

I don't have the breakdown of mortality rates for Palestinian Arabs by age, so I will use US figures. In recent years the rate for the age group 25-34 has gone between 100 and 140 per 100,000. I'm sure the numbers were worse in the 1970s, but there were more prisoners in the 2000s, so we can safely split the difference and conservatively estimate a mortality rate of 120 per 100,000 for Americans. (The real number for Palestinian Arabs in prison is undoubtedly higher because some prisoners are over 35, and their mortality rate is nearly double the 25-34 age group.)

With those numbers, we would expect 6 deaths a year in a prison population of 5000, or a total of 252 deaths since 1967.

In other words, typical Americans between 25 and 34 have a 27% greater chance of dying in any given year than their Arab counterparts in Israeli prisons!