H.R. 738: Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2009

H.R. 738

Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2009

February 3, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

H.R. 738 is being considered on the floor under a motion to suspend the rules and will require a two-thirds majority vote for passage. This legislation was introduced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) on January 28, 2009.

Bill Summary

H.R. 738 reauthorizes legislation (P.L. 106-297) that requires States which receive certain criminal justice assistance grants to issue quarterly reports to the Attorney General on information regarding the death of any person who dies while in the custody of law enforcement.

Information to be included in such reports is to include, at minimum:

  • The name, gender, race, ethnicity, and age of the deceased; and
  • The date, time, and location of the death, as well as a description of the circumstances surrounding the death; and
  • The name of the law enforcement agency that detained, arrested, or was in the process of arresting the deceased.

The bill would require States to submit their report within 30 days of the death.  The failure of any State to comply within the 30 day filing period could result in the withholding of 10 percent of the federal funds that would otherwise have been allocated for that State under grant programs established by the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.  This punitive provision may be waived by the Attorney General.

In addition, H.R. 738 requires the Attorney General to submit a report to Congress recommending a means by which the number of these deaths may be reduced.  The report also requires a study outlining the relationship, if any, between the number and occurrence of such deaths and the management of correctional facilities in which these deaths occur.

H.R. 738 would also require the head of each federal law enforcement agency to submit a report to the Attorney General containing information on the death of any person in their custody.


According to a report conducted by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, 15,308 prisoner deaths occurred in State prisons nationally between 2001 and 2005.  The report indicated that illness accounted for 82.5 percent of these deaths.  Suicide and AIDS composed 12.9 percent of all deaths, with homicide, drugs and alcohol, accidental, and unknown factors accounting for the other 4.6 percent of all deaths among State prisoners in the same time period.  Deaths by execution were not included in the statistical data composing total deaths.

According to an additional Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 43 total deaths occurred in State juvenile correctional facilities between 2002 and 2005. Of these deaths, 21 were the result of suicide, 10 were the result of illness, 5 were the result of homicide, and 5 had unknown causes.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics also issued a report on the total number of deaths occurring while bringing individuals into custody.  Homicides by law enforcement officers made up 55 percent (1,095) of all deaths during arrests by State and local agencies. Eleven homicides were committed by other persons present at the scene.  Drug and alcohol intoxication accounted for 13 percent of all such deaths, followed by suicides (12 percent), accidental injuries (7 percent), and illness or natural causes (6 percent).

On January 28, 2008, the House passed a similar bill, H.R. 3971, Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2008, under suspension of the rules by a voice vote. 


While CBO has yet to publish a cost estimate for H.R. 738, in the 110th Congress, CBO estimated that similar legislation, H.R. 3971, would authorize the appropriation of $500,000 for FY 2009.  The CBO estimates the implementation of that bill would cost $500,000 over 2009-2010.  H.R. 738 includes new requirements for federal reporting and a comprehensive study which may sway the cost upward, likely by a negligible amount.