Scott Statement on the Signing of Death In Custody Reporting Act of 2013 into Law by President Obama

December 18, 2014
Press Release

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Today, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1447, the “Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013,” a bill introduced by Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott. The bill requires states and federal law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Justice information about deaths of individuals in their custody. 

In the 1980s, there was an 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 partly by the rising tide 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 lead 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 is otherwise in custody, including in jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities.  After the law was enacted in 2000, reports showed declines in suicides and homicides of those in custody.  That law expired in 2006, which lead to the effort to reauthorize substantially the same requirements on states and to extend them to federal agencies as well, which is what the bill signed by the President today will do.  The new law also requires the Attorney General to study the information the Justice Department receives about deaths in custody and to issue a report to include a discussion of how the data may be used to reduce preventable deaths.

In response to the enactment of the bill he introduced, Scott stated:

"The President's signing the Death in Custody Act of 2013 into law today represents a critical step in improving and reforming our nation's criminal justice system. It is clear that the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving all of our citizens and that the protections embodied in our Constitution apply equally to all citizens. To aid in that measure, we need data on deaths that occur within our criminal justice system.  Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest.  The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 will make this information available, so policymakers will be in a position to enact initiatives that will reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system. 

"I appreciate the assistance of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate for their efforts to enact the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, particularly Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,  Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, and Senator Rand Paul.  I appreciate the efforts of these and other colleagues who worked together to send this legislation to the President for his signature, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in future bipartisan efforts to improve our criminal justice system".

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