Department of Justice fails to fully count prison deaths, Senate report finds

(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Justice failed to count nearly 1,000 deaths in U.S. prisons during the 2021 fiscal year, according to a new report released by the Senate subcommittee on investigations.

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

The law is intended to collect data on the scope of prison deaths in an effort to curb them.

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

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News; bureau personnel were scheduled to testify before Congress later Tuesday afternoon.

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

The DOJ failed to identify at least 990 prison and arrest-related deaths in the 2021 fiscal year alone, the report found. It also found that 70% of the data the DOJ collected was incomplete and that the DOJ has no plans to publicly publish any of the data from recent years.

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

It continued, “This information is critical to improve transparency in prisons and jails, identifying trends in custodial deaths that may warrant corrective action—such as failure to provide adequate medical care, mental health services, or safeguard prisoners from violence—and identifying specific facilities with outlying death rates.”

The report stated that the DOJ’s data on prisons can be collected but that department officials chose not to. The Senate subcommittee called the failure to implement DCRA “a missed opportunity to prevent avoidable deaths.”


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