World-wide, more than 30 million people move through prisons annually. Record linkage studies have identified an increased risk of death in ex-prisoners. In order to inform preventive interventions it is necessary to understand who is most at risk, when and why. Limitations of existing studies have rendered synthesis and interpretation of this literature difficult. The aim of this study was to describe methodological characteristics of existing studies and make recommendations for the design, analysis and reporting of future studies.