Loyola law professor testifies to effects of uncounted deaths in U.S. prisons


AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Andrea Armstrong, professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, testifies, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations hearing, “Uncounted Deaths in America’s Prisons and Jails,” on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Natalie Thomas, Staff Writer

Senator Jon Ossoff unveiled the results of his 10-month bipartisan investigation into uncounted deaths in America’s prisons and jails in a Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Sept. 20.

Loyola law professor Andrea Armstrong testified to the committee that the federal government should be adamant in collecting information on deaths in jails across the country.

Armstrong’s study found that there were 786 total known deaths at Louisiana prisons, jails and detention centers between 2015 and 2019. While the study found that the majority, about 85%, of those deaths were of medical causes, suicide was the second leading cause of deaths in the prison.

“It is the unique power of the federal government to be able to collect that information and jails are where the conditions of incarceration are most hidden from our communities,” Armstrong said to the committee.

The committee’s investigation concluded that nearly 1,000 deaths in jails and prisons were unaccounted for in the 2021 Department of Justice’s collection of data from states.

Armstrong has visited and audited jails and prisons around the country. Due to that experience, she testified that jails across the country have different practices and that’s why it’s important for the federal government to collect a concise account of deaths in jails and prisons.

“I am also reminded that we have large numbers of members of our communities who work in these facilities, who witness these traumatic instances because that is their employment. They, too, are traumatized,” she said.

Armstrong stated that Congress has a range of tools available to help increase transparency and that academic researchers like herself stand ready to assist and to support as needed.

Armstrong concluded her testimony by reminding the public that it is not just the incarcerated who suffer as a result of this broken system. She argued that everyone suffers as a result of it.

Ossoff serves as chairman of the homeland security permanent subcommittee on investigations, which looks into corruption, abuse, and misconduct in American prisons.

“What the United States is allowing to happen on our watch in prisons, jails, and detention centers nationwide is a moral disgrace,” Ossoff said during the hearing.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said that the transparency they once had is lost.

“It doesn’t look like the Department of Justice is particularly interested in providing us that transparency now, and that’s a serious issue,” Johnson said.

In the hearing, audio tapes and testimony were shared, which provided the public with an insight into what is occurring in jails, prisons, and detention centers nationwide.