WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – An investigation into deaths in jails and prisons has lawmakers calling for more transparency and accountability.
Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., say in a new report that the Department of Justice failed to count and report the deaths of nearly 1,000 people in prisons and jails in 2021. They held a hearing on Tuesday to present their findings and hear from witnesses who have been impacted by those deaths.
Belinda Maley was one of the witnesses. She says her son Matthew died from heart problems after being in jail in Chatham County, Georgia.
“It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever had to endure and I don’t want anyone else to have to do that, to have to go through this,” Maley said.
Vanessa Fano shares that tragic connection with Maley, and also testified in front of lawmakers at the hearing. Her brother Jonathan died by suicide while he was in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana prison.
“People who are going into those prisons are coming out in caskets,” Fano said. “My brother needed support, needed medical aid, needed psychiatric care and he received none of those.”
Senators Johnson and Ossoff say the deaths are part of a problematic pattern of uncounted deaths.
“The American people deserve the truth here,” Johnson said.
Sen. Ossoff says the DOJ not accurately recording who is dying and how it’s happening makes it impossible to implement life-saving reforms.
“What the United States is allowing to happen on our watch in prisons, jails and detention centers nationwide is a moral disgrace,” Ossoff said.
While it’s too late for Jonathan and Matthew, their families want their stories to inspire change.
“Because your government is supposed to be watching for your best interests,” Maley said.
“Acknowledging that there are flaws and pushing for changes to occur so that those flaws don’t continue taking other lives,” Fano added.