Academic journal article American Journal of Criminal Law

Dormant Data: Why and How to Make Good Use of Deaths in Custody Reporting

Academic journal article American Journal of Criminal Law

Dormant Data: Why and How to Make Good Use of Deaths in Custody Reporting

Article excerpt

I. Introduction ........................................................................................................ 302

II. The Current Standard for Conditions of Confinement, and the Incentives It Creates ....................................................................................................... 303

A. Governments Have an Obligation to Meet the Basic Needs of Those in Custody ............................................................................... 303

B. At What Point Does a Government Fail to Meet its Obligation? .......... 304

C. Perverse Incentives ............................................................................... 306

D. When Things Go Really Wrong: A California Case Study .................. 307

III. Deaths in Custody Information is Available and Valuable ............................. 309

A. Deaths in Custody Reporting at the Federal Level ............................... 309

1. Birth ofthe Death in Custody Reporting Act ................................ 309

2. Death ofthe Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 .................. 312

3. The Birth of a New Death Reporting Act ...................................... 313

B. Deaths in Custody Reporting at the State Level ................................... 314

1. Category One: State Statutes with Investigation Components ...... 314

2. Category Two: State Statutes with Primarily Reporting Components ................................................................................. 316

3. Category Three: State Statutes with Only Notification Requirements ............................................................................... 317

IV. Using DICRA to Promote Greater Transparency and Accountability in Corrections Systems .................................................................................. 319

A. Congress Should Pass the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2009 ...319

B. Policymakers Should Implement DICRA-like Requirements at the State and Local Levels ....................................................................... 320

V. Using Deaths in Custody Data: A Few Examples ............................................ 322

A. Example One: Examining Leading Causes of Deaths in Custody ........ 322

B. Example Two: Comparing Deaths in Custody Nationwide Across States ................................................................................................. 323

C. Example Three: Comparing Deaths in Custody Statewide Across Jurisdictions ....................................................................................... 324

VI. Conclusion ....................................................................................................... 324

I. Introduction

From 2001 to 2006, roughly 3,000 individuals died each year while in the custody of state prison facilities across the United States.1 Another 1,000 died in locally run jails.2 Many of these roughly 4,000 annual deaths are inevitable, but many are also preventable. The latter category (i.e., preventable deaths) should never be viewed as an acceptable statistic. The United States federal and state governments are, through their own criminal justice policies, responsible for who gets placed in custody and for how long. They are also ultimately responsible for the conditions of such confinement. Consequently, governments are obliged to meet the needs of individuals they place behind bars, and preventable deaths represent a categorical failure to meet that obligation.

Although courts have explicitly recognized this burden, they have promulgated a counterproductive standard for enforcing it. By requiring a subjective showing of "deliberate indifference"3 to the plight of prisoners on the part of officials, courts have encouraged prison and jail officials to be ignorant of any systemic issues that have not become catastrophic. …

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