The Justice Department (DoJ) launched an investigation into the Georgia State Prison system, which is dealing with significant staff shortages and a culture of violence and neglect.
Last year alone, 44 inmates in the Georgia State Prison System died by homicide. Assistant Attorney General of the department’s Civil Rights Division said the investigation was sparked by reports of inmates attacking each other along with prisoner and staff assaults on LGBT inmates and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DoJ’s investigation will expand on a federal inquiry that began in 2016, focusing on the abuse of LGBT inmates. According to a USA Today article, the Georgia Prison System was named in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging “abysmal” conditions inside solitary confinement wings that have deteriorated to an extent beyond a constitutional crisis.
The Southern Center for Human Rights said 70% of the 300 inmates in solitary confinement in the state are suffering from “serious” mental illnesses.
“Conditions of confinement… are repulsive,” the civil rights group said. “Rats and roaches crawl on people while they sleep and crawl in their food. Many cells have no power and defective plumbing. Living areas reek of feces from accumulated human waste in unflushed toilets, whose flushing mechanisms are controlled by staff.
The center added that conditions are so bad and mental health services are so inadequate, inmates in solitary frequently experience frequent psychiatric breakdowns, and some become suicidal.
The Georgia Department of Corrections denied the claims saying it was committed to protecting all inmates.
“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 cooperated fully with the USDOJ’s initial investigation in 2016 and are proud of the service and dedication of our team since then to perform during unprecedented challenges.”
Georgia isn’t the only state dealing with issues within its prison system. More than a dozen New York politicians toured the Rikers Island Correctional Facility Monday. During that time, an inmate attempted suicide in front of state Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-Queens) and state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens).