The Department of Justice (DOJ) has opened an investigation into the allegedly deplorable conditions in Georgia state prisons, sparked by an ongoing investigation into anti-LGBTQ sexual violence committed by prisoners and staff in Georgia.
“The Justice Department’s investigations into prison conditions have been successful at identifying systemic constitutional violations and their causes, fixing those causes and stopping the violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “We are investigating prison violence and abuse in Georgia’s prisons to determine whether Constitutional violations exist, and if so, how to stop them.”
The sweeping probe will investigate the culture of violence in Georgia prisons which resulted in at least 44 homicides in prison in 2020 and 2021, and at least one major prison riot.
Clark said that the DOJ has received “sufficient justification” to expand the investigation into whether the state’s prison system violates the Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments,” with families of inmates and advocacy groups documenting the deplorable conditions in Georgia prisons, including prisoners covered in blood, groups of inmates armed with machetes, and evidence of cells with no functioning toilets.
“Rats and roaches crawl on people while they sleep and crawl in their food,” wrote the Southern Center for Human Rights in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month against the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). “Living areas reek of feces from accumulated human waste in unflushed toilets, whose flushing mechanisms are controlled by staff.”
In 2016, the Obama administration started an investigation into Georgia prisons focused on sexual violence against LGBTQ inmates, and it was the first DOJ probe focused on LGBTQ inmates.
“What we can say is that we have received some complaints relating to allegations of abuse in Georgia prisons,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia John Horn said when that investigation was launched. “When we reach critical mass, we decide to open up an investigation.”
That investigation was opened a year after Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman in Georgia who was housed in a men’s facility and was sexually assaulted 14 times while in prison, filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s prisons. She was also denied hormone therapy.
“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare,” Diamond said in a statement. “I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought.”
“Conditions of incarceration in Georgia are unacceptable, and I will continue to drive the attention and resources of the federal government toward solutions and accountability,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) said in a statement about the new investigation.
The GDC denies that there is a “pattern or practice” of neglecting the conditions of inmates in the state and said that the department remains “committed to the safety of all the 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 statement said. “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.”