The Justice Department on Tuesday launched a major investigation into Georgia’s state prison system, which is plagued by extreme staffing shortages and a culture of violence and neglect in which at least 44 inmates have since died from homicide. Last year.
Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke, head of justice’s civil rights division, said the investigation was sparked by alarming reports of attacks by prisoners on prisoners, as well as assaults on prisoners and staff members against gay, lesbian and transgender inmates.
The ministry’s action extends to an existing federal investigation started in 2016 that focused on the sexual abuse of LGBT prisoners.
Earlier this month, the Georgian detention system was named in a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging “appalling” conditions inside the isolation wings which have “deteriorated beyond the point of constitutional crisis ”.
In the lawsuit, the Southern Center for Human Rights claimed that 70% of the 300 people held in solitary confinement suffered from “serious” mental illness.
“The conditions of confinement (…) are disgusting,” said the civil rights group. “Rats and cockroaches crawl on people while they sleep and crawl in their food. Many cells have no electricity and faulty plumbing.
“The conditions are so harsh and isolating – and mental health care is so inadequate – that self-harm and violence are common,” the group said. “People in solitary confinement (…) frequently experience psychiatric crises and become suicidal.”
The Georgia Department of Corrections denied allegations the agency was engaged in a “pattern or practice” of misconduct and neglect, saying officials were “committed to ensuring the safety of all offenders in its custody.” .
“This commitment includes the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners from sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault,” the agency said in a written statement. “We fully cooperated with the original USDOJ investigation in 2016 and are proud of the service and dedication of our team since then in meeting unprecedented challenges.”
Clarke, while announcing the Justice action, cited the Southern Center allegations among the reports that prompted federal intervention.
Indeed, the federal action comes exactly one year after the Southern Center called on the department to help “prevent further loss of life.”
In a September 14, 2020 letter to Trump’s Justice Department, the center warned of “escalating violence” and large-scale riots sparked by lack of food, water and sanitation .
“Videos taken by incarcerated people and readily available on the internet show extreme deprivation – injured prisoners covered in blood, prison dorms without security surveillance, groups of men roaming locked dormitories armed with machetes and cells without running water or functional toilets. the center said, adding that vacancies reached nearly 30%.
Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center, said the group was “deeply grateful” for the Justice action.
“This is an important step in our continued struggle for responsibility for the lives lost and for those who continue to suffer behind the walls,” Totonchi said.
The deputy attorney general called the Georgia investigation a “top priority” for the department.
“The Department of Justice’s investigations into prison conditions have helped identify systemic constitutional violations and their causes, correct those causes and stop the violations,” Clarke said, referring to recent reviews in Alabama and in New Jersey. “We are investigating violence and abuse in prisons. in Georgian prisons to determine whether there are constitutional violations and, if so, how to stop them.