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Senate investigation finds DOJ undercounted nearly 1k deaths in jails or prison in 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New findings show the United States Justice Department failed to report nearly a thousand deaths inside American prisons and jails.

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The findings come from a 10-month bipartisan congressional investigation.

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“I need to go to the hospital. I’m going to die in here,” Matthew Loflin could be heard saying during a phone call with his mother Belinda Maley while he was in a Georgia jail in 2014.

Matthew had been arrested for drug possession and was waiting for his day in court..

“I’m coughing up blood and my feet are swollen. It hurts,” Loflin continued.

Despite his cries for help, court records show Matthew didn’t get medical care for his heart condition, and he died.

“He begged me to help get him out because he knew he was dying and he didn’t want to die there,” Maley said.

Matthew’s story is one of hundreds highlighted in a bipartisan senate investigation. The findings show the justice department failed to report at least 990 deaths in jails or prisons last year, and didn’t give complete information about custody deaths to Congress.

“My family and I placed our trust into the system,” said Vanessa Fano, whose brother Jonathan died in prison.

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Fano says Jonathan was arrested in 2016 after acting erratically because of a mental health episode.

According to the Senate investigation, he was being held in a Louisiana prison where he was denied mental health medication and ultimately took his own life.

“He had a family,” Fanos said. “He had a story. He had ambition, dreams.”

Today, lawmakers questioned the Department of Justice about the reporting failures.

“DOJ can no longer collect directly from local and states like we once did,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Marueen Hennenberg said in response to questioning. “If local agencies decline to report to the state, that state’s reporting to the department will be incomplete.”

Loved ones like Belinda Maley and Vanessa Fano say they’re determined to help prevent others from suffering the same loss they have.

“If they’re in jails or in prisons, they’re still human beings and they do have rights,” Maley said.

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The senators behind the investigation say getting correct and complete data from the Justice Department about custody deaths is essential because it shows who is dying in custody and why.

They say that information is needed to identify any changes necessary to prevent avoidable deaths.

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