Department of Justice Announces Sweeping Investigation into Georgia Prisons
Today, the United States Department of Justice announced a sweeping investigation of Georgia prisons. ln September 2020, SCHR urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene as Georgia prisons descended into chaos. Since then, conditions have continued to deteriorate past the point of constitutional crisis.
“We are so grateful to the DOJ for heeding our call and recognizing the human rights crisis that is unfolding every day in Georgia prisons,” said Sara J. Totonchi, Executive Director of SCHR. “This is a significant step in our ongoing struggle for accountability for the lives that have been lost and for the people who continue to suffer behind the walls.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in Georgia, prisons remain grossly understaffed (multiple facilities are operating with over 70% correctional officer vacancy rates) and homicide and suicide rates have reached unprecedented levels. In 2017, there were eight homicides or suspected homicides in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Last year, there were 29. From January 1, 2020, to August 19, 2021, there have been at least 48 homicides or suspected homicides in Georgia prisons. These are confirmed homicides for which SCHR has received incident reports from the Georgia Department of Corrections. They are almost certainly undercounts. Between January 1, 2020, and August 19, 2021, there have been at least 38 documented suicides in Georgia prisons. These are confirmed suicides for which SCHR has received incident reports from the Georgia Department of Corrections. This, too, is almost certainly an undercount.
Nearly thirty percent of suicides in the Department since January 1, 2020 have occurred at Georgia State Prison, a facility that purportedly specializes in the housing and care of people with serious mental illness. On Friday, SCHR and Kilpatrick Townsend, LLC filed a lawsuit against Georgia State Prison, on behalf of people incarcerated in horrific conditions of solitary confinement.
“In 20 years doing prison work, I have never seen such horrific and chaotic conditions in Georgia prisons,” Totonchi says. “The violence, the treatment of people who are ill, and the apathy of those who run the prisons are unconscionable and unacceptable.”