ATLANTA — A Senate subcommittee chaired by Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff revealed more results Tuesday of a nearly 10-month inquiry into the U.S. prison system, calling the revelation of nearly 1,000 uncounted deaths in jails and prisons a "moral disgrace."
Those deaths, Ossoff said, were unreported as the Department of Justice routinely fails to implement a federal law that is meant to make clear "who is dying behind bars, where they are dying and why they are dying."
The DOJ, the Democrat said, is "therefore failing to determine where and which interventions are most urgently needed to save lives."
The subcommittee earlier this summer brought in the former Bureau of Prisons director, Michael Carvajal, as they outlined corruption and failures in the federal prison system.
The hearing Tuesday focused on abuses in state and local detention systems, and the DOJ's failure to comply with the reporting law.
"We are here today because what the United States is allowing to happen on our watch in prisons, jails and detention centers nationwide is a moral disgrace," Ossoff said in opening remarks. "As federal legislators serving on the nation's preeminent investigative panel, it is our obligation to investigate the federal government's complicity in this disgrace."
According to Ossoff, the investigation uncovered that in the first quarter of the 2020 Fiscal Year, the DOJ did not capture any state prison deaths in 11 states and found no local jail deaths in 12 states and D.C.
In the 2021 Fiscal Year, he said an analysis done by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found 990 deaths that simply were never counted.
Of recorded deaths, Ossoff said 70% had records that were incomplete and 40% had records that "failed to capture the circumstances of death."
On top of that, after 20 years of publicly reporting jail deaths - what Ossoff called an "invaluable resource" for oversight of the U.S. prison system - the DOJ stopped doing so in 2020. And it has no plans to make that data public again.
"If the Department has concluded in 2022, eight years after this law was reauthorized, that it is incapable of successfully implementing it, I am surely willing to work with them to help fix that," Ossoff said. “But this hearing is about something more fundamental - Americans are needlessly dying, and are being killed, while in the custody of their own government."