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US Senate panel votes for bill to require reporting of deaths in federal custody

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] on Thursday voted in favor of the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act [HR 3971 text, PDF], which as passed by the House reauthorizes a program requiring states receiving criminal justice assistance grants to report to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] information about people who die while incarcerated or in police custody. The Senate committee amended the bill to ensure that federal detention center authorities report deaths under the same circumstances. Joanne Lin, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomed the revisions [press release]:

Today, senators closed the loophole that allowed deaths of immigration detainees in federal detention facilities to go unreported. The lack of transparency and accountability on the federal level under the current law meant that the public and advocacy groups have had to rely on word-of-mouth and media accounts to find out about deaths of immigration detainees. At least 69 people have died in immigration detention since 2004. A significant number of these deaths occurred in federal detention facilities.
The ACLU has previously criticized conditions in US immigrant detention facilities [ACLU materials].

The Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, begun in 2000 and administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) [official website], receives death records quarterly from each state's prison and juvenile justice systems and from nearly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. The reports include the age, gender and race of the deceased, the criminal history of the deceased and the circumstances surrounding the death. This week, the group Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] issued a report [text; press release] concluding that the US criminal justice system fails to meet many international standards for the treatment of crime victims. Among other proposed measures in the report, HRW recommended that the United States ratify the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text and materials].

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