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Southern Prisons Coalition Submits New Report to United Nations

Last week, the Southern Prisons Coalition, a group of civil and human rights organizations of which SCHR is a member, submitted a new report to the United Nations on the devastating consequences of incarceration on Black communities throughout the South. Though it is wide-ranging in both the problems and solutions it presents, the report focuses on racial disparities within the system, the heavy use of solitary confinement, and the treatment of incarcerated workers.

In Southern states where Black communities comprise roughly 38% of the total population of the state, Black people account for as much as 67% of the total incarcerated population. In Georgia specifically, Black people make up 31% of the state population and a staggering 60% — nearly double — of the incarcerated population. The disparities continue while incarcerated. Black people in prison are more than eight times more likely to be placed in solitary confinement, and they are 10 times more likely to be held there for exceedingly long periods of time. Time spent in solitary confinement is incredibly corrosive to one’s mental health. In Georgia prisons, the crisis is so dramatic that there have been at least nine deaths by suicide in just the period from February to April of this year alone. The report makes multiple policy suggestions which would heavily curtail the use of solitary confinement.

In many Southern states, including Georgia, incarcerated workers continue to perform farm labor on penal plantations, some of which are on the sites of former slave plantations. Six states — Georgia among them — do not pay incarcerated workers at all. The report also gives recommendations that would, at minimum, bring states into compliance with the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of incarcerated people.

By submitting the report to the United Nations, the Southern Prisons Coalition hopes to solicit concrete recommendations from the UN Committee, as well as commitments from the United States delegation about plans to address the systemic issues in the United States prison system, particularly in the Deep South. In the words of Antonio L. Ingram II, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund, “Despite widespread knowledge of the longstanding racial inequalities in the criminal legal and carceral systems, the United States continues to allow egregious human rights violations to persist for Black incarcerated people in violation of international law. This report serves as a sobering reminder of how far we need to go.”

The report comes out months after the Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated a statewide investigation into violence in Georgia’s prisons. Unfortunately, the Georgia Department of Corrections has been obstructing the DOJ’s investigation at every turn. Most recently, the GDC refused to provide DOJ investigators with the basic documents and site visits to which they are entitled under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. (On March 28, 2022, the DOJ filed a petition to enforce their power to subpoena, and on July 1st, a Georgia judge ordered them to comply and turn over a multitude of records related to the investigation of violence within the state prison system.)

Read more about the report here.