The United States
significantly undercounts the number of people who die in law
enforcement custody each year. How can we fix this?
resulting from interactions with the US criminal legal system are a
public health emergency, but the scope of this issue is intentionally
ignored by the very systems that are supposed to be tracking these
fatalities. We don't know how many people die in custody each year,
whether in an encounter with police on the street, during transport,
or while in jails, prisons, or detention centers. In order to make a
real difference and address this human rights problem, researchers
and policy makers need reliable data.
Death in Custody, Roger A. Mitchell Jr., MD, and Jay D.
Aronson, PhD, share the stories of individuals who died in custody
and chronicle the efforts of activists and journalists to uncover the
true scope of deaths in custody. From Ida B. Wells's enumeration of
extrajudicial lynchings more than a century ago to the Washington
Post's current effort to count police shootings, the work of
journalists and independent groups has always been more reliable than
the state's official reports. Through historical analysis, Mitchell
and Aronson demonstrate how government at all levels has
intentionally avoided reporting death in custody data.
and Aronson outline a practical, achievable system for accurately
recording and investigating these deaths. They argue for a
straightforward public health solution: adding a simple checkbox to
the US Standard Death Certificate that would create an objective way
of recording whether a death occurred in custody. They also propose
the development of national standards for investigating deaths in
custody and the creation of independent regional and federal
custodial death review panels. These tangible solutions would allow
us to see the full scope of the problem and give us the chance to
truly address it.