How is Death in Custody Defined?
Congress passed legislation – the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (DCRA) – that requires the Department of Justice to collect data from states and territories about prisoners that die in custody. The act defines a death in custody as any time someone dies under the following conditions:
- Being detained by police
- While under arrest by law enforcement
- During the process of arrest
- Being transported to a correctional or detention facility
- While incarcerated
What Are Some Reasons for Dying in Custody?
There are many reasons why someone may die in custody, including:
- Police brutality and violence
- Drug or alcohol intoxication or withdrawal
- Accidental death
- Death from illness or suicide
What Populations Are at the Highest Risk for Death in Custody?
People suffer from death in custody for a variety of reasons, from natural illness to police mistreatment. Some of those risk factors lead certain populations to be particularly susceptible to death in custody. The Department of Justice released a report indicating that “from 2006 to 2016, suicide was the leading single cause of death in local jails each year.” Indeed, suicide accounted for 31 percent of deaths in custody in 2016. The report also found that approximately “40% of people’s deaths in 2016 occurred within the first seven days of admission to jail.”
Does the Department of Justice Require Reporting of Deaths in Custody?
Congress passed the DCRA in 2013 in response to the absence of data about deaths that happen in custody. The bill requires states and territories as well as federal agencies to report on deaths in custody or face repercussions. Those repercussions include the withholding of federal funds, specifically up to 10 percent of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.
Why Have Deaths in Custody Increased?
As the prison system has changed in the years since the DCRA was passed, a number of factors contribute to the increase in deaths in custody, including:
- Inadequate medical care including a lack of mental health care
- Funding decreases
- Lack of adequate staffing
- Prison overcrowding
- Neglect and mistreatment
How You Can Help
The Fair Fight Initiative advocates for a fair and equitable criminal justice system, including holding authorities accountable for wrongful deaths in custody. With the support of donations, the Fair Fight Initiative provides support for victims and their families to bring litigation in death in custody cases. The Fair Fight Initiative also uses advocacy to bring awareness to these injustices.
A donation to the Fair Fight Initiative helps us fight to create a justice system that is fair for all.
Please submit an application if you feel you or a loved one has been the victim of mistreatment or inhumane conditions in the legal system. Accepted cases will be supported with fundraising, reducing or eliminating costs to you. Fair Fight Initiative receives many applications, and responses may take many weeks.