How Often Do People Die While in the Custody of Law Enforcement?

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East Hartford Criminal Law AttorneyPeople who become involved in the criminal justice system are likely to face numerous difficulties. They may be accused of serious crimes, and even if they are ultimately found not guilty, the damage to their reputation and their lives can be irreparable. In many of the worst cases, people may die while in police custody, or preventable deaths may occur in correctional facilities. Over the past several decades, there have been tens of thousands of deaths that occurred while people were in the custody of law enforcement. However, the true scope of this problem is unknown due to problems with the reporting of these types of deaths to the federal government.

Problems With the Implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act

The Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), a federal law that was passed in 2000 and updated in 2014, requires states to report the deaths of people who are held in police custody, inmates in local and state correctional facilities, and others who are killed by police officers to the Department of Justice. This law also required the DOJ to compile statistics on these deaths and make a report to Congress with recommendations on how preventable deaths may be reduced.

Unfortunately, the DOJ has struggled to collect data from states, and even though its report to Congress was due in 2016, it has yet to provide the required information. While a voluntary reporting system used by the Bureau of Justice Statistics was able to document deaths that occurred between 2000 and 2019, this program ended in 2019. Since then, around 5,000 deaths have gone unreported, with 15 states failing to report any deaths related to arrests and seven states failing to report any deaths in local prisons.

While the DCRA penalizes states for non-reporting of deaths in law enforcement custody by reducing the federal funding they can receive through justice assistance grants, the DOJ has chosen not to implement these penalties. DOJ officials have stated that it would be unfair to penalize a state as a whole because local law enforcement agencies failed to meet their reporting requirements. Local police departments and other agencies are required to provide information about each death that occurs, including the victim's identifying information and the date, time, location, and circumstances surrounding the death. However, a Senate subcommittee investigating these issues found that 70 percent of reports are missing required information and 40 percent of reports failed to provide a cause of death.

Without official statistics, lawmakers, journalists, researchers, and criminal justice advocates have been forced to fall back on open-source data compiled by non-official sources. The issues with reporting make it difficult to hold police and prison officials accountable for these deaths. Without accurate data, it is impossible to know how many people are dying while in custody, and it is difficult to determine what reforms are needed to prevent these deaths. 

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Lawyer

Lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are continuing to push for better data on deaths that occur while people are in the custody of law enforcement. This is essential for ensuring accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, our Connecticut criminal defense attorney works to protect the rights of those who are facing criminal charges, people who are incarcerated, and others who are involved in the criminal justice system. We help our clients determine their options in cases involving deaths or other injustices that occur, and we will work to hold officials who failed to protect people's rights accountable for their actions. To learn more about how we can assist in these matters, contact our office at 860-290-8690 and set up a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://theappeal.org/doj-deaths-in-custody-failure-missing-deaths/

https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2022-09-20%20PSI%20Staff%20Report%20-%20Uncounted%20Deaths%20in%20America's%20Prisons%20and%20Jails.pdf

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