Federal investigators are asking the court to force transparency on Georgia prisons


Grant Blankenship

Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy C. Ward, second from right, after the March meeting of the Board of Corrections in Forsyth.

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to force Georgia’s Department of Corrections to comply with a wide-ranging subpoena issued as part of the DOJ’s investigation of Georgia prison conditions.

In a March 28 filing to the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the DOJ said what it seeks, broadly, are documents relating to policies, training materials, staffing and personnel discipline, documents relating to certain prisoners, incident reports and internal investigations materials. The original subpoena specified a date in January for delivery of the material.

The DOJ said to date, Georgia corrections has only provided access to “an incomplete set of policies” which they call only a fraction of the original request, some blank documents, and a few organizational charts. 

Also missing are any reports related to in-custody homicides. A GPB analysis of documents provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows 53 homicides in Georgia prisons between 2020 and 2021. Investigative reporting by The Atlanta Journal Constitution came to the same conclusion and is cited in the court filing.

A persistent and maddening wall around the information about how their loved ones died has long been a complaint of family members of the incarcerated in Georgia, whether the deaths are among the 106 dating back to 2017 for which no cause of death has yet to be determined or the record number of homicides in the past three years. 

The filing also highlights the outstanding request for Georgia Department of Corrections lists of prisoners who self identify as LGBTI. Concerns that LGBTI inmates in particular were being denied their 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment are cited by the DOJ asthe impetus for expanding their investigation last year. The GDC recently reached a $2.2 million settlement in a wrongful death suit brought by the family of Jenna Mitchell, a transgender inmate found hanging in her cell in Valdosta State Prison.

Requests by the DOJ to tour Georgia prisons for inspections and inmate interviews were met with demands by the Georgia Department of Corrections that the DOJ first agree to a non-disclosure agreement limiting public disclosures of what the DOJ learns. 

Further, according to the court filing, the GDC has responded to the original subpoena for information with their own request that the DOJ first “disclose…information about the basis of the investigation.”

The DOJ cited the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, or CRIPA, as allowing them to say no to both the NDA and the request to explain their investigation.

Ultimately, the DOJ wants the court to force Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward to comply with the DOJ subpoena within 30 days. 

See the original story here.