The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an investigation into the Georgia prison system in the wake of allegations of unconstitutional abuses of inmates.
According to Kristen Clarke, the head of the DOJ’s civil rights division, the dangerous conditions in the Georgia prison system include gang activity, contraband, severe staffing shortages, and lack of accountability for misconduct.
There is special concern over the treatment of LGBTQ inmates by staff members and other inmates, including widespread sexual abuse.
If the DOJ and Georgia federal prosecutors find that a practice of constitutional violations exists, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) could be placed under a consent decree. That would mandate an overhaul of the system overseen by the courts and monitors outside of the GDOC.
Georgia officials deny that the rights of inmates were systemically violated.
Ware State Prison Riot
In August 2020, hundreds of inmates took over a building at Ware State Prison, Norcross. The riot played out live on social media. Fires were set, and guards were taken hostage. At least four corrections officers were injured, two of whom were stabbed and beaten. Three inmates were also hurt.
In addition to the riot, two homicides and two COVID-19 deaths had occurred at the facility in the previous two months. Prior to the riot, men were left in their cells for weeks without adequate food, water, showers, and medical attention. Employees at the prison described the situation as a “powder keg.”
Ware State Prison was not the only Georgia facility to experience rioting. Over a three-month period, large-scale rioting took place in two other prisons.
26 Homicides in 2020
Twenty-six people were homicide victims in Georgia prisons last year. This year, the number is already 18.
According to the non-profit law firm Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), the pandemic worsened the already deplorable conditions at the state prisons to the point of a constitutional crisis.
Twice the Average Suicide Rate
By June of 2020, 19 inmates had committed suicide in Georgia prisons. That is twice the state prison national average.
One-third of these suicides took place at Georgia State Prison. According to SCHR, 70 percent of those inmates in the prison’s Tier II solitary confinement program experienced serious mental illness. Between September 2019 and May 2021, at least 12 people committed suicide at this institution.
Confinement in Tier II is “repulsive,” as per the report. Rats and roaches infest the cells, the air smells of feces from accumulating human waste in toilets – which only staff are allowed to flush – and many cells lack power. Solitary confinement and the lack of mental health care drive inmates to self-harm and violence.
70 Percent Correction Officer Vacancy Rates
Staff shortages at many Georgia correctional facilities are extreme. At several facilities, the vacancy rates for corrections officers have reached an astonishing 70 percent. At Ware State Prison, 70 percent of new hires quit last year, even before the riot.
Such shortages mean there is inadequate staff to perform basic duties, such as taking inmates back and forth to the showers. Those taking showers may find themselves left there for extended periods, sometimes hours. Unable to control water flow and temperature, many have fainted or vomited due to excessive heat exposure.
If you or a loved one suffered catastrophic injuries or sexual assault at the hands of the police, prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details.
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