Justice Department not fully counting deaths in prison, Senate report finds

The Justice Department did not count nearly 1,000 deaths in US prisons in fiscal year 2021, according to a new report released by the Senate Investigations Subcommittee.

States that accept certain federal funding are required under the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (DCRA) to report people who die in jails and prisons to the DOJ.

The law aims to collect data on the extent of deaths in prison with the aim of stemming them.

But the Senate committee report, released Tuesday, alleges that the DOJ failed to properly implement reporting requirements, leading to inefficient and unfulfilled collection of death data.

The department did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment; office staff were scheduled to testify before Congress later Tuesday afternoon.

The seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is displayed outside FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, February 2, 2018.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

The subcommittee said in its report that the DOJ will be eight years late in providing Congress with a report on how deaths in custody can be reduced. The report was due in 2016, but it’s not expected to be completed until 2024.

The DOJ failed to identify at least 990 jail and arrest-related deaths in fiscal year 2021 alone, according to the report. He also found that 70% of the data collected by the DOJ was incomplete, and that the DOJ did not plan to publicly release data for past years.

“The DOJ’s failure to implement the DCRA has deprived Congress and the American public of information about who dies in custody and why,” the report said.

He continued: “This information is key to improving transparency in jails and prisons, identifying trends in deaths in custody that may warrant corrective action – such as failure to provide adequate medical care, mental health services or to protect prisoners from violence – and identify specific facilities with peripheral death rates.”

The report says the Justice Department’s data on prisons can be collected, but they have chosen not to. The subcommittee said failure to enforce this law “is a missed opportunity to prevent preventable deaths.”

ABC News

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