Today, OpenTheGovernment.org joined a coalition of criminal justice, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, and open government organizations in expressing concern over the Justice Department’s proposed implementation of the Deaths In Custody Reporting Act (DICRA) — which requires states and federal law enforcement agencies, to report to the Attorney General certain information on the death of any person who is detained, arrested, en route to incarceration, or incarcerated. The DICRA was enacted almost two years ago, and guidance on the law’s implementation is long overdue, but this proposed guidance does not meet the requirements of the statute.
The letter emphasizes that, by shifting the data collection and reporting requirements from the states to the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and by relying upon publicly available information (“open-source review”) for its Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program, the DOJ proposal departs from DICRA provisions that require states receiving federal funding to report deaths in custody to the federal government. While media outlets such as the Guardian and the Washington Post have been critical to understanding police-civilian encounters over recent years, relying on media accounts and statistics is an inadequate method of collecting data to determine the circumstances under which people die while in law enforcement custody. The letter also reiterates the request that the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) condition federal criminal justice grants on data collection and reporting on police-civilian encounters.
Additionally, the proposal does not indicate how federal law enforcement agencies will comply with DICRA, and fails to indicate what the penalties will be for non-compliance.
During a Town Hall event hosted by OTG in January of this year, speakers discussed the need for such guidance to ensure compliance by police departments across the country. In April, OTG submitted recommendation to the Justice Department, requesting the DOJ include a commitment in its 2016 Open Government Plan to issue guidance on the implementation of DICRA, to include the definition of deaths in custody, what constitutes as noncompliance, how penalties will be applied, and, importantly, clear instructions and timelines for making information public.
Comments on the Justice Department’s proposal are due by October 3, 2016, and can be submitted here.
Read the letter here.