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DOJ Undercounted Almost 1,000 Prison, Arrest Deaths, Probe Finds

The Department of Justice undercounted at least 990 prison and arrest-related deaths in the 2021 fiscal year alone, a Senate subcommittee found, Law and Crime reports. Titled “Uncounted Deaths in America’s Prisons & Jails: How the Department of Justice Failed to Implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act,” the report by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation headed by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), concluded a 10-month investigation. “At least 341 missing and potentially reportable prison deaths were disclosed on states’ public websites but were not collected” by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the report said. At least 649 missing arrest deaths were reported in a public database maintained by a non-profit civil rights organization, but were not collected.".” The committee said these findings signal a failure to implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), which passed in 2000 and was reauthorized in 2013.

The Justice Department blamed the faulty collection practices on changes to the law during the reauthorization. “The enactment of DCRA of 2013 had several unintended consequences that have degraded and hindered the Department’s ability to produce complete and accurate information,” DOJ said. The agency said that before 2013, it "achieved near 100 percent response rates and was producing accurate and complete statistical information regarding deaths in local jails and state prisons.” Since that time, the DOJ says it’s been unable to collect directly from local agencies.


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