Ossoff says unreported deaths at US jails are a human rights crisis

Chairman Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., prepares as the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations holds a hearing on charges of corruption and misconduct at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to accurately report deaths that occur in state jails and prisons.

In a hearing of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Ossoff chairs, week, witnesses testified this week that there were nearly 1,000 uncounted deaths in the last year alone.

A Senate subcommittee found the failure to report deaths in correctional facilities was preventable, especially as states receiving certain federal funding are required to report how many people die in custody to the Department of Justice.

But in the subcommittee’s report, the investigation found widespread failures including no data from 11 states or any jail death numbers in 12 states from October through December 2019.

The hearing also included a follow-up from July whistleblower accounts from the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta that revealed corrupt guards allowing unfettered access to narcotics, weapons and other contraband.

Other testimony included a mother, Belinda Maley, whose son, Matthew Loflin, died due to a lack of access to medical care at Chatham County Jail near Savannah.

“It was important for the Senate and the public to hear that last phone call between her mother and her dying son, because it’s important to be reminded that these are not statistics: these are human beings,” said Ossoff.

Maley testified she tried everything she could to get her son out of jail to receive proper medical care for a heart condition.

Corizon Health provided medical services to the jail at the time and, in a statement, said they “are always deeply disappointed when confronted with serious medical occurrences but they are part of the job of caring for patients in challenging circumstances.”

Congress members have demanded a solution from the Department of Justice and continued monitoring of the data.