HARRISBURG Abril 2, 2024 – State Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks), chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery/Delaware) co-hosted a public hearing today in Harrisburg on the lack of reliable information surrounding deaths in the custody of law enforcement and correctional institutions in Pennsylvania.

“Today’s hearing provided much needed awareness regarding the lack of transparency and accountability in reporting the number of in-custody deaths that occur in Pennsylvania’s state and county correctional institutions,” Muth said. “As stated during the hearing, transparency starts with the collection of accurate data, and today’s testimony revealed how Pennsylvania is failing in tracking and reporting this critical data. This is a public health issue and a matter of basic human dignity. Pennsylvania has a lot of work to do in ensuring that deaths in custody are minimized as well as implementing a system where every death in custody is thoroughly investigated, accurately reported, and that the data is publicly available.”

The hearing, held in the State Capitol by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, featured three panels of testimony that included journalists, advocates, and policy experts who will discuss the need for comprehensive reporting, transparency and maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth. 

“Comprehensive reporting of deaths in custody serves as a vital tool for public health and accountability. Accurate and consistent data provides us with insight to make change and helps to highlight practices and policies to create a safer criminal-legal system,” said Senator Cappelletti. “I’m grateful to hear from experts at today’s hearing, and hope that our conversation enlightens more people to the need for Senate Bill 996.”

Senator Cappelletti introduced Senate Bill 996 earlier this session. Known as the Death in Custody Reporting Act – the bill would require all state and local law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities to report the death of a person in custody to the Pennsylvania Attorney General within 30 days of the death. Under Senate Bill 996, any failure to report would be a misdemeanor and agencies may be fined for noncompliance. Senate Bill 996 is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Participants in the hearing included Joshua Vaughn, Investigative and Enterprise Reporter, Penn Live; Dr. Roger Mitchell, Professor of Pathology, Director of Center of Excellence for Trauma and Violence Prevention, Howard University College of Medicine; Dr. Jay Aronson, Professor and Director of the Center for Human Rights Science, Carnegie Mellon University; Justin Douglas, Dauphin County Commissioner; and Claire Shubik-Richards, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Prison Society.

State Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and state Senator Tim Kearney (D-Delaware) also participated in the hearing virtually. 

For more information on this policy hearing and to access all submitted testimony and a full recording of today’s hearing, visit www.SenatorMuth.com/policy.

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Panel 1: Journalists 

Panel 2: Advocacy 

Panel 3: Policy Solutions