The government missed almost 1,000 deaths of incarcerated people in 2021
“For every incarcerated person suffering, there is a mother, a father, a child, a sibling or a friend who is actively concerned about their well-being,” a criminal justice advocate told Supercreator.
As Raphael Warnock campaigns for reelection against Trump-supporting former football star Herschel Walker, Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s other Democratic senator, has been leading a ten-month investigation into uncounted deaths in America’s prisons and jails.
The investigation’s findings, which were previewed to reporters on Monday morning and revealed in a report and during a hearing this afternoon, are dismal.
For the 2021 fiscal year, nearly 1,000 deaths in American jails and prisons were uncounted by the Justice Department in their collection of state data. And at least 341 missing and potentially reportable prison deaths were disclosed on states’ public websites but were not collected by the Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. BJA failed to collect at least 649 missing arrest deaths that were reported in a public database maintained by a non-profit civil rights organization.
The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee that reported the findings and is chaired by Ossoff worked with the Government Accountability Office to review DOJ’s death in custody data to discover these reporting gaps.
Alicia Kenworthy, a Washington, DC-based writer and advocate for criminal justice reform, told me that she was unsurprised by the findings and that nearly anyone who’s had a loved one in jail or prison in America can tell you that medical and mental health issues are inadequately treated in prison.
“I belong to a number of support groups for families with incarcerated loved ones and every day there's a different story: Someone was denied treatment for a life-changing medical procedure until it was too late, left alone to suffer in solitary confinement or, if and when they are finally seen by a doctor, treated with derision and contempt,” Kenworthy said. We've had seven people die in custody in DC alone this year.”
Kenworthy added that instances of blatant neglect are too often covered up or brushed over because the US lacks an established system for reporting these deaths to the public.
And of course, it’s not just the incarcerated person who is affected by their imprisonment.
“Prison bids are served by individuals, but they have ripple effects,” Kenworthy said. “For every incarcerated person suffering, there is a mother, a father, a child, a sibling, or a friend who is actively concerned about their well-being.”
She described this as the “mental burden of vicarious incarceration” that affects entire communities.
“Trying to fall asleep at night, with the knowledge your loved one is facing neglect and there's seemingly nothing you can do — except for maybe call, beg, cry and call again — is a unique form of torture.”
The problems that led to the failures reported by the subcommittee span many years and multiple administrations.
PSI uncovered multiple problems within DOJ, spanning many years and multiple Administrations, that led to these failures.
The Justice Department has failed to report any death in custody data since 2019 and will not complete previously required reporting to Congress before 2024 — at least eight years past due, Senate aides told reporters on Monday. (DOJ successfully collected and reported this data between 2000-2019 with DOJ disclosing it collected data from an average of 98 percent of all local jails and 100 percent of all state prisons during that time period and reported it to the public, as mandated by the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The DCRA was reauthorized by Congress in 2013 and requires states that accept certain federal funding to report to the Justice Department about who is dying in prisons and jails.
In addition to its data collection failures, the subcommittee’s investigation found that the vast majority of death in custody information DOJ has collected from states in recent years has been incomplete. For example, 70 percent of records on deaths in custody were missing at least one DCRA 2013-require field, approximately 40 percent of the records did not include a description of the circumstances surrounding the death and almost one-third of the records were missing more than one DCRA-required data field.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department referred me to a report it issued last Friday on the DCRA and to testimony from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Maureen Henneberg, a witness at this afternoon’s subcommittee. (Henneberg’s panel had not started at press time.)
“Growing awareness of deaths in custody has increased demands for criminal and juvenile justice reform,” the report said. “The Department recognizes the importance of collecting complete and accurate data to inform strategies for reducing deaths in custody.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Kenworthy said that while the federal prison system is just one piece of a large patchwork of prison systems in this country, the federal government can set an example with both the standards of care and reporting they impose.
“We need to remember that prison should not, in and of itself, be a death sentence,” she said. “The vast majority of prisoners will return to their communities. For healing and rehabilitation to be effective, families need to trust.”
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Biden speaks out against dark money: President Biden has long believed federal campaigns should be publicly funded but acknowledges he lacks the support to make his desire the law of the land.
But on Tuesday afternoon he attempted to lend the power of the presidency to calls from congressional Democrats to ban “dark money” — undisclosed contributions that flow in the shadows to influence our elections — from the political process.
“Dark money has become so common in our politics,” Biden said. “I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Biden’s remarks come ahead of a vote this week in the Senate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations, labor organizations and political organizations to disclose contributions of more than $10,000 during an election cycle to the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours.
The House already passed the bill but Senate Republicans are expected to block it. In turn, Democrats are expected to use the vote to bolster their claims that the modern Republican Party is anti-democratic.
“The public sees and feels that their government too often responds to secretive special interests and not to them Americans across the political spectrum from Tea Partiers to Bernie Bros are justifiably furious,” Whitehouse said. “They want answers and the DISCLOSE vote will make crystal clear who wants to remove the dark money toxin from America's political system and who insists on protecting and defending it.”
House defends its Electoral Count Act fix: Rep. Pete Aguilar of California and vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus threw some thinly veiled shade at his Senate colleagues over competing bills that would reform the law former President Donald Trump hoped his allies would exploit to overturn the 2020 election.
“In the short term, let’s see which chambers pass bills. I think that’s important. Our bill is written by [Democratic Rep.] Zoe Lofgren [of California] and [Republican Rep.] Liz Cheney [of Wyoming] is going to pass this chamber,” Aguilar told reporters on Tuesday. “I don’t know what language will pass the Senate bill, whether there will be amendments or whether there will be changes. I don’t know. I also don’t know the 10 Republicans who have committed to vote for [the Senate version]. I don’t think that’s been made public.
Here’s the backstory: A bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Susan Collins of Maine worked for months on their own fix to the antiquated law that dictates how electoral votes are counted after a presidential election. They say they’ve secured the minimum GOP votes required to pass their bill, which is important for any piece of major legislation.
But the House says the Senate version doesn’t go far enough and is standing behind their work product.
The Senate bill only requires one-fifth of both chambers to object to certifying an election, while the House requires one-third. The House bill prohibits state officials from refusing to certify elections; the Senate version ignores the issue altogether. And the House bill includes a definition for a “failed election.” Meanwhile, the Senate version allows states to set the terms for what counts as voter fraud.
The bills are expected to be taken up during the lame-duck session after the midterm election prior to the start of the new Congress next year.
VP meets with student leaders: Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to South Carolina to mark HBCU Week and National Voter Registration Day.
Harris touched on the importance of registering to vote, mental health, student loan debt cancelation and climate change during a discussion with nine students and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
“As we continue to recover and recalibrate from the COVID-19 pandemic I feel it's even more vital now to bring attention to our community's physical, mental and social well-being, especially those of students,” Arteria Gibson, a senior communications major at Claflin University, a private HBCU in Orangeburg, said to the vice president.
Klobuchar rolls out tandem voting rights legislation: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced two bills to commemorate National Voter Registration Day.
The Same Day Voter Registration Act would require states to allow same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day by 2026.
The Stop Automatically Voiding Eligible Voters Off Their Enlisted Rolls in States (SAVE VOTERS) Act would prohibit states from removing voters from its rolls without evidence and require state election officials to send a notice within 48 hours of removing any voter from the rolls.
Both measures were pulled from the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senate Republicans have blocked from passing Congress.
Greene promotes her anti-trans bill: Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene this morning held an event outside the Capitol for the Protect Children’s Innocence Act, a bill she introduced last month that makes it a felony to perform any gender-affirming care on children.
Greene was flanked by 11 white anti-trans colleagues, seven of whom were men, despite research showing that Black and brown LGBTQ youth are more likely to suffer from insufficient health care and the bigoted rhetoric she used during her remarks, referring to “transgenderism” as a “social contagion” in one breath while claiming not to be attacking anyone’s sexuality in the next.
“Accepting someone for who they are does not change anything about your own gender, beliefs or life, and can immeasurably make life better for LGBTQ+ people,” a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. “But politicians who do not have an ounce of medical training are interfering with the rights of parents and acting as if they know how to raise and support LGBTQ+ children better than their own parents. It’s just wrong.”
Greene’s legislation would also prohibit the use of federal funds for gender-affirming care or for health insurance that covers such care and prohibits higher-education institutions from offering instruction on gender-affirming care.
Sir Elton to the WH: President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will host and speak at a musical performance by Sir Elton John on Friday evening.
The event, titled “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” is a collaboration with A+E Networks and The History Channel to celebrate the unifying and healing power of music and celebrate the life and work of John.
The White House said everyday history-makers will attend, including teachers, nurses, frontline workers, mental health advocates, students, LGBTQ+ advocates and more.
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden spoke about his support for the DISCLOSE Act at the White House before traveling to New York City where he will attend a Democratic National Committee reception this evening.
Vice President Harris traveled to Orangeburg, South Carolina to meet with student leaders at Claflin University about mental health, entrepreneurship, access to capital and a number of other issues that matter to young Americans. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona joined Harris for this event. The vice president also this afternoon spoke at South Carolina State University’s Fall Convocation before traveling back to Washington, DC.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden traveled to NYC earlier today as well ahead of two events on Wednesday.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff this evening will speak and present the Federal Employee of the Year medal at the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals ceremony.
The House is in and will consider a bill that would allow borrowers to separate federal student loan debt that they once consolidated with a spouse.
The Senate is in and confirmed Florence Pan to be US Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia and voted to amend the Montreal Protocol, an international climate treaty.
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