A 10-month-long bipartisan Senate investigation revealed the Justice Department undercounted the number of people who died in U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers by 990 last year, although senators estimate the number is much higher. The investigation also concluded that the Justice Department is failing to inform congress who is dying, where they are dying and why they are dying – as is required by the Death in Custody Reporting Act.
The Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations called the deaths a “moral disgrace.”
“Americans are needlessly dying, and are being killed, while in the custody of their own government,” Sen. John Ossoff, D-GA, said.
The investigation revealed the Bureau of Prisons was warned for years by its own investigators of corruption, misconduct and a “lack of regard for human life” by BOP personnel. It also showed that federal inmates killed themselves when suicide prevention and wellness checks were not properly implemented.
Chairman Ossoff said those were “abusive and unconstitutional practices by the Federal government that likely led to loss of life in federal facilities.”
The hearing to announce the investigation’s findings included witness testimony from Belinda Maley, whose son died while being held in pre-trial detention before he was ever convicted of a crime.
A recording of the last phone call between Maley and her son was played.
“Okay, listen I found out everything I can. I’m gonna try to get… um, I’m having lawyers and the sheriff and all this other kind of s–t trying to make it so I can come in there and see you. I am trying also to get you out of there and get you..” Maley said to her son.
“I need to go to the hospital,” her son Mathew responded. “I’m gonna die in here.”
The son said he was in pain, that his feet were swollen and that he was coughing up blood.
The phone call concluded with them both crying.
“I know Matthew, I know what is wrong with you. I told you this would happen. I love you, Matthew. They are going to cut us off,” Maley said as the time limit was reached on the phone call.
“I love you too. I’m gonna die in here,” the son said as his last words to his mother.
The Justice Department said changes made to the Death in Custody Reporting Act in 2013 created some of the problems with accurate reporting. That includes changing reporting requirements and transferring some responsibilities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics to the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Maureen Henneberg suggested some of the following changes:
- Allow the Bureau of Justice Statistics to design and implement its own methods for collecting and reporting data.
- Eliminate the requirement for centralized state reporting, which would allow the Justice Department to collect information directly from state and local correctional and law enforcement agencies, open sources, and other public sources.
- Allow states to report deaths when they have collected all the information about the decedent, rather than requiring a quarterly report.