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Statement from Christina Wilson Remlin on In-Custody Deaths

Senator Ossoff opened the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on uncounted deaths in prisons and jails with this: “We are here today because what the United States is allowing to happen on our watch in prisons, jails, and detention centers nationwide is a moral disgrace.” The Southern Center agrees. We applaud both the recently released report, and the hearing this afternoon, focusing national attention on the lack of transparency and corresponding accountability for people’s deaths inside.  

The crisis of deaths on the inside is acute, and it hits close to home for Georgians. Our state’s prisons and jails remain seized by chaos and violence, and state actors continue to shroud information regarding custodial deaths in secrecy.   

The Department of Justice’s failed implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) of 2013 has hidden custodial death data from the public’s eye, keeping the nation from understanding who is dying and why, and keeping Congress, in its oversight capacity, from identifying systemic trends and solutions. You cannot respond to a crisis when you do not understand it.  

The DOJ has failed to even identify at least 990 prison and arrest related deaths that were a matter of public record. Of the 990 uncounted deaths, 341 were prison deaths disclosed on states’ public websites and 649 were arrest-related deaths disclosed in a reliable, public database. And 40% of the records collected from the states did not include a description of the circumstances surrounding the death.  

Every single one of those deaths matters, because every single one of these lives mattered. Robust, accurate, and timely collection — and dissemination — of custodial death data is fundamental to accountability. You cannot manage what you do not measure.  

Finally, we know that our carceral systems are steeped in white supremacy and broad dehumanizing discrimination. Having access to the DCRA required data on custodial death will enable Congress to evaluate the disproportionate harm these deaths have on communities of color and people experiencing poverty. This data can and should be used to bring transparency to, and accountability for, the systemic failures responsible for custodial deaths. It is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.