The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating the treatment of LGBTQ inmates in Georgia as part of a broader investigation into conditions at prisons in the state after dozens of incarcerated individuals died due to homicide and other forms of fatal violence dating back to last year.
The department is investigating whether the state is neglecting to protect inmates from cruel and unusual punishment, including “physical harm at the hands of other prisoners,” according to the DOJ. This investigation builds on a 2016 probe into whether the state provides queer prisoners “reasonable protection from sexual abuse” by other prisoners and by staff in the prisons.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who works in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said shedding light on the issues would bring attention to the disparities facing inmate populations.
“Ensuring the inherent human dignity and worth of everyone, including people who are incarcerated inside our nation’s jails and prisons, is a top priority,” Clarke said in a written statement. “The Justice Department’s investigations into prison conditions have been successful at identifying systemic constitutional violations and their causes, fixing those causes, and stopping the violations.”
Officials established the probe under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which authorizes the department to investigate whether the alleged constitutional abuses stem from a “pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of such rights.”
Acting US Attorney Peter D. Leary of the Middle District of Georgia said allowing these conditions to stand harms prison staff and creates unsafe conditions for incarcerated communities.
“Prison conditions that enable inmates to engage in dangerous and even deadly activity are an injustice, jeopardizing the lives of detainees, staff members, and other corrections personnel,” Leary said in a written statement.
In April, the DOJ filed a brief in response to a lawsuit filed last November by Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman who has been housed in a men’s prison in Georgia and has faced ongoing sexual assaults. The DOJ did not take a position in the case but noted that the US Constitution “requires prison officials to conduct individualized assessments that lead to reasonably safe conditions of confinement and adequate medical care for all prisoners.”
Lori Benoit, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), contested the allegations of harm against inmates.
“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,” Benoit said in a written statement to Gay City News. “This commitment includes the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners from sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.”
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