Filed Under: Politics

DOJ undercounted 990 deaths in US jails

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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.

“Before I yield to the Ranking Member, and with Ms. Maley’s permission, I’m going to share an audio clip of the last phone call that she shared with her son while he was jailed — a pretrial detainee who was never convicted of any crime.

“I want to want those who are tuned in across the country that this is a disturbing clip. And while this audio plays, ask how we might feel on either end of this call. Please play the audio.

Mother: Matthew?

Loflin: Hey.

Mother: 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 shit 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 . . .

Loflin: I need to go to the hospital.

Mother: I know…

Loflin: I’m gonna die in here.

Mother: I know you are Matthew. I am doing everything I can to get you out, and so I can see you. Hello?

Loflin: Yeah.

Maley: They’re doing everything they can.

PHONE: There are 15 seconds remaining.

Loflin: I’ve been coughing up blood and my feet are swollen. It hurts, Mom.

Mother: 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…

Loflin: I love you too. I’m gonna die in here…

CHAIR OSSOFF: “The crisis in America’s prisons, jails, and detention centers is ongoing and unconscionable. The Department of Justice and the Congress must treat this as the emergency to Constitutional rights that it is.

“Senator Johnson, I yield to you.”

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.

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