Georgia Senator Questions AG Garland Regarding Failures of DOJ to Accurately Report Prison Deaths

Jon Ossoff By Mr.Election – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons.wikimedia.org

By Cynthia Hoang-Duong

WASHINGTON, DC. – During a Senate Judiciary Committee Department of Justice oversight hearing this week, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland about the failure of the Department of Justice to count at least 1,000 deaths in local and state prison facilities throughout the U.S.

This “disturbing” statistic, charged the senator, emerged from the reports of the Ossoff-led Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations following its 10-month investigation into the U.S. prison system in 2022.

Ossoff began his line of questioning by citing his bipartisan investigation’s finding that the DOJ unsatisfactorily implemented the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA).

The DCRA instructs states to report to the DOJ data on the number of prisoners who die in their custody, and serves to promote transparency and assist the DOJ in discovering civil and human rights violations, according to the senator’s office.

However, as Ossoff claimed, nearly 1,000 deaths were uncounted and the DOJ had not publicly disclosed information collected by the DCRA since 2019.

Based on these findings, the senator pressed AG Garland to restate the DOJ’s commitment to release the DCRA data to the public.

The attorney general explained that because reporting data is voluntary in U.S. states, it is difficult for the department to accurately report prison deaths. He admitted that he was unfamiliar with the appropriations of the act. However, if it did facilitate public reporting, he agreed the department should have presented it.

Senator Ossoff critiqued the lack of attention given to addressing the failures of the DOJ to fulfill the DCRA requirements. He repeated his ask to the attorney general to express his commitment to personally oversee the correction of the issue and guarantee that it is remedied.

Attorney General Garland responded in the affirmative.

Ending this part of the hearing, the senator emphasized, “This needs to be fixed. Folks are dying in prisons and jails. The public needs to know who’s dying, where they’re dying. You at the Department need to know who’s dying, where they’re dying, in order for you to … bring the kinds of civil rights enforcement that you’re pursuing in Georgia.”

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