The death of a family member is difficult enough for many people with which to cope. However, when the death occurs while the person is in prison, it compounds the grief, helplessness, and frustration that survivors may experience. While you may never expect to find yourself in this situation, it is important for you to know what happens when a loved one dies in prison.

Circumstances of the Death

The process of handling the death of an incarcerated loved one depends on the circumstances of his or her passing. If this person’s death was violent or unexpected, you want to find out the truth about what happened that lead to the loved one dying.

Whether it was by homicide, an accident, or other suspicious circumstances, you have the right as a family member to pursue the truth and discover what caused your relative to pass away so quickly. You can ask the state to perform an autopsy and press charges against the person or people who contributed to or caused your relative to die.

If the death was caused by natural causes or disease, you likewise might have the right to ask for an autopsy. You can find out if the loved one was receiving adequate treatment and could have legal recourse against the state if prison officials failed to treat the relative’s medical attention adequately.

Claiming the Remains

Regardless of what caused your loved one to die, you will be asked by the prison to claim the body if you are listed as the next of kin. You can claim the body and plan a funeral and burial. You can also have the remains cremated and sent to you afterward.

If you do not have money for a funeral or you were not close to the deceased, you can leave the body for the prison to dispose of properly on its own. Some states will bury unclaimed inmates in a prison graveyard or unmarked grave. Others will cremate the remains and scatter or bury the ashes.

Most state and federal prisons have chaplains on staff to help you make decisions regarding the death and final arrangements of a loved one. They understand that the circumstances can be particularly trying and that you may have conflicting emotions about what to do.

You may never anticipate your incarcerated loved one dying before he or she is released. Nonetheless, it is important that you plan for this possibility. You have several options as the survivor to plan the final arrangements and claim the deceased.