FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation creating an independent panel to investigate deaths of prisoners in custody in Kentucky jails was introduced in the House of Representatives today.
House Bill 400, introduced by chief sponsors Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, and Rep. Darryl T. Owens, D-Louisville, seeks to create an External Detainee Fatality Review Panel to investigate the deaths of detained individuals while in custody in Kentucky county or regional jails, prisons or youth detention centers operated by state agencies or any facility operated by a private entity contracted by the state.
The proposed bill follows a 2015 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that, nationally, inmate deaths are increasing.
In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 4,446 deaths in U.S. prisons, the agency reported. In Kentucky, 154 inmates have died in custody over the past 6½ years, according to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
“The loss of a life, no matter what they’ve done to find themselves in custody, is lamentable,” said Wayne. “It’s especially tragic if that loss is ignored or disregarded. The External Detainee Fatality Review Panel will find answers and ensure transparency. Hopefully, it will also prevent further tragedies.”
The panel will be led by the seven voting members, including two retired judges, two board-certified pathologists, a qualified mental health professional and two at-large citizen members.
It will be required to publish case reviews, findings and recommendations on the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s website. Along with monthly chairperson reports to judiciary and state government committees, the panel will also publish an annual report detailing case reviews and recommendations to prevent further loss of life.
Though attached to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for administrative purposes, the panel will be an independent body. Wayne said the proposed External Detainee Fatality Review Panel is modeled after the Kentucky’s Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, which reviews cases that are determined to have been caused by neglect or abuse.