The Justice Department said Thursday it was investigating conditions at a jail in Fulton County, Georgia, citing reports of violence, deteriorating surroundings and the death last year of an inmate who was covered in lice and feces.
The civilian investigation, part of a broader effort by the department to examine conditions in jails and prisons across the country, will also examine whether officers used excessive force, the availability of medical care and the treatment of mentally ill inmates.
“Detention or incarceration in jail should not include exposure to unconstitutional living conditions that endanger lives or risk serious harm from assault,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general who heads the civil rights division of the agency, announcing the investigation. “Prison facilities must provide constitutional and humane conditions, in which all people can live safely while going through the criminal process.”
Fulton County government and the sheriff’s office said in a joint statement that they planned to cooperate fully.
Conditions at the Fulton County Jail have been the subject of criticism for years. the jail was under federal supervision from 2006 to 2015 after a court ruled that the detention complex was overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous. Extremely crowded conditions in 2020 prompted an infectious disease expert to warn of a massive outbreak of the coronavirus in jail unless you drastically reduce your population size.
In her announcement, Ms Clarke said there was “significant justification” for opening the inquiry, including recognition by local police of the dilapidated state of the jail and a “deeply concerning” level of violence in which the jail averaged more than one stabbing per day. one point last year. Inmates at the jail are often people of color, she added, saying 87 percent were black.
It also noted the death of an inmate, LaShawn Thompson, 35, in September. Mr. Thompson, who had been arrested on an assault charge, was kept in a filthy cell in the jail’s psychiatric ward and died after weeks of severe neglect. a private autopsy performed on behalf of his family said.
The medical examiner found that Mr. Thompson was malnourished and dehydrated, had lost 32 pounds in less than 90 days, and had matted hair, dirty fingernails, and “countless” insects all over his body. The examiner also wrote that Mr Thompson, who suffered from schizophrenia, had not received medication for his condition for over a month.
Advocacy groups welcomed the news of the Justice Department investigation.
Fallon McClure, deputy director for policy and advocacy for the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview that the Georgia chapter had recommended that the jail reduce its inmate population by a september report.
Ms. McClure pointed to steps taken at a jail in neighboring Cobb County, where a smaller population allowed cell blocks to be renovated. “It’s much easier to improve conditions if you’re not overcrowded,” she said.
The Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit public interest law firm that wrote to the Justice Department in April about Thompson’s case, described the investigation as a step forward.
Its executive director, Terrica Ganzy, called the investigation “a significant step toward reckoning for the lives tragically and senselessly lost, and for the many people who continue to suffer rampant indignity and abuse in Fulton jails.”
At least four jail officers have been arrested or fired for misconduct this year. One case involved a detention officer who now faces felony charges of aggravated assault and inmate cruelty.
jail too Opened its doors to local media this spring to highlight poor conditions, including unusable sections, bedding shortages, water leaks and plumbing problems, rusting cell doors, large holes in the walls, and staff shortage.
In May, an inmate in jail tunnel through a wall to an adjacent cell block to stab another inmate, jail officials said, prompting a search of both cells and the seizure of weapons, including “rods made from parts of the dilapidated building’s infrastructure.”