The Justice Department announced Tuesday a civil rights investigation into state prisons in Georgia.
The “pattern or practice” probe will focus on violence among prisoners, allegations of sexual abuse of LGBT prisoners by staff and fellow prisoners, and whether the state is providing adequate protection from harm.
Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said the Justice Department has “significant justification” to launch the probe.
She said at least 26 confirmed or suspected homicides were reported in Georgia prisons last year, and there have been 18 homicides so far this year, along with “countless” reports of violence including stabbings and beatings.
“No prisoner’s sentence should include violence at the hands of other prisoners while behind bars,” Ms. Clarke said.
Photos and videos also have been posted online showing the “widespread” use of contraband weapons and open gang activity in the prisons.
Ms. Clarke also brought up the riot last year at Ware State Prison in south Georgia, during which two guards were stabbed and three inmates were injured.
Inmates were able to leave their cells due to malfunctioning doors and they documented the riot on social media. Videos posted to Facebook showed fires had been lit around the grounds, windows were broken and some inmates were walking outside the building without any guards present.
It lasted for roughly two hours until Georgia police were able to regain control of the complex.
Ms. Clarke said Georgia prisons have persistently had “extreme” staffing shortages and high turnover rates among correctional officers, which can lead to inadequate supervision and violence.
The investigation, she said, will be ”independent, thorough, and fair.”
If the probe reveals systemic constitutional violations, the DOJ will provide written notice and evidence to the state, as well as remedial measures to address it.
Peter Leary, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said his office looks forward to working with the department on the investigation.
The justice system, he said, must “allow wrongdoers to serve their sentences in a safe and civilized environment.”
A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Corrections told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the agency has not engaged in the aforementioned systemic constitutional violations.
“The GDC is committed to the safety of all of the offenders in its custody and denies that it has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating their civil rights or failing to protect them from harm due to violence,” the spokesperson said in an email.