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Lawsuit Challenges Inhuman Conditions of Confinement at Georgia State Prison

On September 10th, SCHR and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of people held in solitary confinement at Georgia State Prison (GSP) in deplorable conditions. Over 70 percent of the approximately 300 people in GSP’s “Tier II” solitary confinement program, and many people in the prison’s other solitary confinement units, experience serious mental illness. Conditions at GSP have long been abysmal, but in the last two years, they have deteriorated past the point of constitutional crisis. Between September 2019 and May 2021, at least 12 people died by suicide at GSP.

At GSP, people are kept in solitary confinement for months or years, held in segregation cells specially designed to isolate people by depriving them of sensory stimuli and restricting movement. People held in solitary confinement at GSP have no access to programming and very limited access to phone calls, recreation, or time out of their cells. Apart from occasional showers, medical appointments, or legal visits, most people are locked in their cells 24 hours per day, seven days per week.  

Conditions of confinement at GSP are repulsive. Rats and roaches crawl on people while they sleep and crawl in their food. Many cells have no power and defective plumbing. Living areas reek of feces from accumulated human waste in unflushed toilets, whose flushing mechanisms are controlled by staff. 

The conditions are so harsh and isolating—and mental health care is so inadequate—that self-injury and violence are common. People subjected to solitary confinement at GSP frequently experience psychiatric crises and become suicidal. They may then be moved to the prison’s “Acute Care Unit,” or ACU, where they are confined for days without clothes, hygiene items, or toilet paper, in cells smeared in the previous occupants’ feces and blood. People with serious mental illness receive little to no mental health care.   

The conditions in GSP’s solitary confinement units are exacerbated by the prison’s severe staffing shortage; the correctional officer vacancy rate is more than 70 percent.  Staffing is so inadequate that officers fail to perform basic duties, such as taking people back and forth to showers or the infirmary.  As a result, people housed in solitary confinement are often left for extended periods in temporary holding areas – such as locked shower stalls and telephone-booth-sized cages – without food, water, or access to a toilet.  People left for hours in shower stalls in which officers control water flow and temperature have passed out and vomited from excessive heat exposure.  

The lawsuit, filed as a putative class action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, seeks a court order requiring Defendants to remedy the dangerous and unconstitutional conditions. The named Defendants include the Warden of GSP, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, and other senior correctional officials.