Vera Institute Of Justice Statement On the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations Report On Uncounted Deaths In America's Prisons And Jails

September 20, 2022 - Today’s report and hearing “Uncounted Deaths in America’s Prisons and Jails: How the Department of Justice Failed to Implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act” shines a light on the federal government’s continuing delay to implement a system that tracks deaths in America’s jails and prisons and the lack of accountability of those managing these facilities for the neglect and mistreatment that results in so many lost lives.

The rate at which people were dying in the nation’s thousands of local jails was on the rise prior to the spread of COVID-19, with the smallest jails accounting for the highest mortality rates—but no more recent data is available for what were likely the deadliest years on record. Being jailed in the United States should not mean being condemned to die in the shadows of the criminal legal system.

We commend Sens. Ossoff and Johnson for using the power of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to amplify the voices of families whose loved ones have died behind bars and to call on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to use all of its authorities to ensure there is sufficient and appropriate oversight.

The stories from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and the Chatham County Detention Center in Savannah, Georgia, are echoed in jails across the country, from massive facilities like Rikers Island to rural Huntington County, Indiana. Death rates have long been the highest for unconvicted people, many of whom are sitting behind bars because they can’t afford the money bail amount set in their case.

The human and social costs of incarceration in the United States remains catastrophic. Black, Native, and Latinx people, as well as people experiencing poverty of all races and ethnicities, are disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated. Jails continue to be used far too frequently as a first-line response to poverty, mental health, and substance use, while the current money bail and probation systems frequently force poor and working people to choose between paying for rent, food, or housing or paying bail, court fees, or fines.

In President Biden’s May 2022 Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety, the administration laid out a plan to ensure full implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act, including timely investigations into deaths, but the number of lives lost as well as unanswered questions continue to pile up. We urge the subcommittee to continue to investigate this issue and ensure the DOJ aggressively addresses the obvious gaps in its oversight.

Media Contact: Dominic Slowey | 781-710-0014 |

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal, and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit