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Prisoners' rights advocates are crediting improved medical care and better separation of violent and peaceful inmates for a big drop in death rates behind bars in the United States from suicide, homicide, and AIDS. Death rates from AIDS-related causes in jails fell sharply, from 20 per 100,000 in 1988 to eight per 100,000 in 2002, the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Sunday. In state prisons, AIDS-related death rates fell from 100 per 100,000 inmates in 1995 to 15 per 100,000 in 2000.
One reason for the downward trend is that advocacy groups have become much more aggressive in filing lawsuits to improve conditions behind bars, said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. The improvements are occurring as the size of the population behind bars heads upward. The number of inmates has been on the increase since the 1980s, with the U.S. prison and jail population now at 2.1 million. (AP)