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Congressional investigation: Dept. of Justice failed to report nearly 1,000 deaths in custody

"The Department is failing to determine who is dying behind bars, where they are dying, and why they are dying," Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) said.

WASHINGTON — A 10-month bipartisan investigation found the Department of Justice undercounted the number of deaths in custody by at least 990.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, unveiled their findings during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

"It has become clear in the course of this investigation that the [DOJ] is failing in its responsibility to implement the Death in Custody Reporting Act," Sen. Ossoff said. "That is, the department is failing to determine who is dying behind bars, where they are dying, and why they are dying — and therefore failing to determine where and which interventions are most urgently needed to save lives."

A 10News investigation last November showed hundreds of deaths behind bars were never properly reported to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

RELATED: 10Investigates: Prisons, jails across Tennessee failing to properly report hundreds of inmate deaths

Federal lawmakers uncovered a similar problem at the national level.

"The federal law, ultimately, is as good as the communication is," said Knoxville attorney Lance Baker. "We want to prevent unnecessary and untimely deaths."

Baker has represented a number of families who've lost loved ones in jails. He said transparency in these kinds of situations is key.

"State and local jails have got to do a better job at reporting accurate numbers — keyword accurate numbers — to our federal agency," Baker said. 

The Deaths in Custody Reporting Act was first passed by the United States Congress in 2000. It was then re-authorized in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). 

The DOJ told lawmakers there have been a number of changes to the reporting process since the re-authorization. The department said it'd like to re-evaluate the process.

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