New Law Helps Families Gain Immediate Clarity Following Inmate Deaths

Bronx, N.Y. – Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx, 77th AD) announced the signing into law of her legislation Assembly Bill A.7500A, which will require the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to be responsive to the next of kin in the event that a loved one or family member passes away behind bars. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill A.7500A on November 28.

“Grieving the death of a loved one can and will always be a very trying time for a family. In some cases, if that loved one is in custody, it could take up 18 months before any details are offered regarding the circumstances of their death,” said Assemblywoman Joyner. “I thank Governor Cuomo for his support in recognizing the rights of families and their loved ones behind bars, as every inmate is someone’s mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter. This new law will help family members gain clarity by speeding up the process by which they obtain information, and make it easier to grieve the loss by offering some closure and details surrounding their passing.”

DOCCS investigations are often not complete until 12-18 months after an inmate's deaths, which is a very long time to wait for information when someone in your family has died in custody. In March 2016, Lonnie Hamilton tragically died at Marcy Correctional Facility in Marcy, N.Y. and his family allegedly did not hear word that he was deceased until May, according to various news reports.

Assemblywoman Joyner’s legislation, which amends Correction Law, calls for DOCCS to be responsive to an inmate’s next of kin or other designated person, who seeks additional information regarding the circumstances surrounding their passing – including an original preliminary death certificate.

According to DOCCS, there were a total of 501 inmate deaths during the four year period from 2009-2012. Also, natural causes was listed as the most frequent cause of death in all age groups except for the 16-24 year old group.

Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx, 33rd SD) introduced companion legislation Senate Bill S.5427, which passed the Senate June 14. Previously, the Assembly unanimously approved Assembly Bill A.7500 for the second straight year on March 28.