December 12, 2013
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of H.R. 1447, the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013. This bill would require State and Federal law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Justice information about the deaths of individuals in their custody.

We have learned from history how useful this information can be. In the 1980s, there was increased focus on conditions in State and local jails and prisons and the problem of prisoners dying in custody. The interest in oversight of this issue was generated partially because of the rise of wrongful death cases brought in relation to these deaths.

Press reports in the 1990s concerning prison abuses and deaths of those incarcerated being attributed to suicide led Congress to develop legislation in response to this problem.

The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 was enacted to require States to report quarterly to the Attorney General information regarding the death of any person in the process of arrest or who was otherwise in custody, including jails, prisons and juvenile facilities. The reports are brief, essentially stating who died and a brief description of what happened.

The law expired in 2006, which led to an effort to reauthorize substantially the same requirements on States and extend those requirements to the Federal agencies as well. And that is what H.R. 1447 would do.

With this statistical data, policymakers at the State, local, and Federal levels can make informed judgments about the appropriate treatment of prisoners and to develop ways to lower the prison death rate. This policy cannot be made if we don't have this information that the law requires.

In fact, since the focus on deaths in custody emerged in the 1980s and enactment of the law in 2000, reports showed significant declines in suicides and homicides for those in custody.

H.R. 1447 is a strong reaffirmation of the importance of requiring that States submit this information, and the bill expands the commitment to Federal law enforcement agencies as well.

The bill also requires the Attorney General to study the information the Justice Department receives and to issue a report to include a discussion of how the data may be used to reduce preventable deaths.

With the enactment of this legislation, we can make even more progress with respect to reducing preventable deaths of those in custody, which is surely an obligation of government when it incarcerates so many of its citizens.

This initiative has a history of strong bipartisan support, and I thank my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, especially the gentleman from Georgia, and my colleague from Virginia, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Bob Goodlatte, for supporting the bill in committee and bringing it to the floor today.