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DOJ Files Statement of Interest in SCHR Case

A cell at the South Fulton Jail. Photo property of the Georgia Accountability Office.

In April, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), along with the Georgia Advocacy  Office, filed a lawsuit on behalf of a putative class of women with mental illness being held in solitary confinement at the South Fulton Jail in Union City, Georgia. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the case – underscoring just how grave the human rights violations at issue are.

The lawsuit, which seeks a court order requiring that women in the jail be held in safe, sanitary conditions, alleges that women who have been identified by jail staff as experiencing mental illness are locked inside their cells for over 23 hours a day on average. Solitary confinement can cause anyone to mentally decompensate, but it is especially harmful for people coping with mental illness.  Women in the South Fulton Jail who are deemed incompetent to stand trial (often for petty offenses) sometimes remain in their squalid cells around the clock for weeks on end, while similarly situated men in the Fulton County system are given access to a competency restoration program within the jail, with on-staff psychiatrists, individual and group therapy, activities, and recreation.

SCHR welcomes the Department of Justice’s Statement of Interest in this case. It is unacceptably cruel and counterproductive to detain people with mental illness in solitary confinement, and it is additionally egregious to condition access to competency restoration services on a person’s gender.

To learn more, Bill Rankin at the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the Statement.