ATLANTA — The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday announced an investigation into violence and conditions inside Georgia prisons.
“We must ensure the inherent dignity of everyone, including people who are incarcerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. She said the inquiry would focus on violence among the incarcerated, understaffing issues and abuse of inmates who are gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
The investigation follows calls for federal intervention by lawmakers, nonprofits, activists and loved ones of people in Georgia prisons.
“The Justice Department is committed to seeking to address the devastating effects of prison staff shortages, inadequate policies and training and the lack of accountability,” Clarke said, adding that the agency hasn’t made any final decisions about Georgia prisons yet.
The Georgia Department of Corrections didn’t immediately respond to news of the investigation, which will be focused at facilities that are medium security or higher.
Understaffing, a persistent issue at prisons across Georgia, can lead to inadequate supervision and violence, Clarke said, as well as prevent inmates from accessing necessary medical and mental health care.
Data from the state says 29 people died of suicide while held in Georgia prisons in 2020. That was nearly triple the total in 2017 and gave Georgia one the highest rates in the nation.
Since the start of 2020, Clarke said Georgia prisons have seen 44 suspected or confirmed homicides.
The investigation seeks to answer if the state is doing enough to protect the people in its custody.
“Without adequate policies, training and staff accountability, people in prisons and jails are also at risk for sexual misconduct and use of excessive force,” said Clarke.