Justice Division Publicizes Georgia Jail Investigation

Kristen Clarke, who heads the DOJ’s civil rights division, said the investigation will investigate possible civil rights violations.

Clarke said the Justice Department had “substantial justifications” to launch this investigation.

“For example, in 2020 at least 26 people died in Georgia prisons from confirmed or suspected homicides. There have been 18 homicides reported so far in 2021, “said Clarke. “Reports of myriad other acts of violence, including stabbing and beating, have also surfaced from Georgia prisons.”

“Concerned citizens, family members and civil rights organizations, as well as photos and videos linked to social media and other channels, have shown widespread contraband and overt gang activity in prisons,” added Clarke.

The Georgia Department of Corrections denied the allegations in a statement to CNN.

“The GDC is committed to the safety of all offenders in its custody and denies that it has committed any pattern or practice of violating their civil rights or failing to protect them from harm through violence,” said Timothy C. Ward, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Corrections, the statement said.

“This commitment includes protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) inmates from sexual harassment, sexual abuse and assault. We worked fully together on the USDOJ’s initial investigation in 2016, and we pride ourselves on the service and dedication our team has shown since then to weather unprecedented challenges. “

Clarke also noted that more than 2 million people across the country live in prisons and jails, and people of color are disproportionately represented among them.

“In Georgia, for example, the percentage of incarcerated people who are black is almost twice the percentage of black residents in the entire state of Georgia. According to data from the Georgia Department of Corrections, the state’s prison population is 61% black, so they do made up about 32% of the population, “said Clarke.

The investigation will also look at the devastating effects of “prison staff shortages, inadequate guidelines and training, and then lack of accountability,” said Clarke.

“The staff shortage in prisons is a particularly acute problem. It can lead to inadequate supervision and violence. It can also prevent access to necessary medical and psychiatric care.”

A class action lawsuit filed Friday by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP on behalf of individuals in solitary confinement at Georgia State Prison alleges detainees being held in cells covered with feces and urine and not walking Their cells are allowed to stay in cells for weeks or even months except for showering, and some are forced not to shower or bathe for weeks because of the scarcity of prison.

Several officials from the Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia State Prison are named as defendants. Lori Benoit, a spokeswoman for the GDC, told CNN that the department had “no comments on pending litigation.”

Federal law, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, empowers the Department of Justice to investigate state prisons “to determine whether detainees are subject to a pattern or practice of constitutional violations,” said Clarke.

“While this critical civil rights bill has led to some progress, the urgent need for our work remains today,” said Clarke.

Georgia has the fourth highest incarceration rate behind Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Last month, after a two-year investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, the Department of Justice and the state of New Jersey announced a proposed consent decree to introduce major changes to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.