The Department of justice has finally opened an investigation into the abuse claims in Georgia prisons.
If you you or anyone you know has suffered abuse in a Ga state prison, here is the information you need to share your story:
As a result of the settlement of the Ashley Diamond case, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is doing an investigation of the treatment of LGBT persons in Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC), which includes state prisons inside of Georgia. The DOJ is investigating issues related to housing, healthcare access, protection from sexual assault, staff harassment and safety of LGBT persons. I am hoping to help facilitate people telling their story to the DOJ by drafting a written account of the stories and delivering them to the point person at the DOJ for the investigation. The reason for doing this is so that we keep a record of people’s experiences if we decide to escalate after the investigation through litigation or further advocacy and to make sure that we present the stories to the DOJ in a compelling and concise manner.
While DOJ investigations have historically been limited in their results and impact, they can result in the DOJ recommending policy changes and in the most extreme circumstances a lawsuit. If the investigation reveals that individual corrections officers, prison staff, or other people in prison have violated federal criminal laws, then the DOJ can bring federal criminal charges against those particular individuals. If the investigation finds that there are systematic practices (i.e. either a repeated pattern of behavior or illegal policies) within the Georgia DOC that violate the law, there are two possible options: (1) the DOJ can make policy recommendations to the Georgia DOC, which they can voluntarily accept; or (2) the DOJ can file a lawsuit to get a judge to force the Georgia DOC to make policy changes so that the DOC is in compliance with the law. (In some rare instances, there can be monetary penalties like reducing the amount of federal funds that the prison system receives.)
For example, if the DOJ finds that the Georgia DOC is not complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which is a federal law that contains several policy requirements that prison and jails must comply with in order to help reduce the number of sexual assaults against people in prison, they will recommend changes in prison policies that will put the DOC in compliance with PREA. (For more information about PREA, check out this website http://www.prearesourcecenter.org/.) On the other hand, if the DOJ finds that an individual prison guard has sexually assaulted someone in prison, the DOJ could bring federal criminal charges against that individual prison guard.
So in the summary, here’s what we are looking for:
- People who are LGBT identified
- Formerly or currently incarcerated in a Georgia state prison (This does NOT include Georgia jails. Generally, you will be able to tell if a person was in jail versus prison by the length of their sentence. Sentences that are less than 1 year are served in a county jail while sentences longer than 1 year are served in a state prison.)
- Experienced discrimination, harassment, sexual assault, issues accessing healthcare, etc. while in prison
- Willing to share their experience with me and/or the DOJ investigator (If people have specific concerns about their identity and/or story being shared beyond the DOJ and me, we can negotiate a confidentiality agreement with them to address these concerns.)
For people who are currently in prison, have them call Flor Bermudez from TLC at 510-380-8229. (Since I do not have a phone number that can accept calls from people in prison, Flor will accept these calls for me and I will follow up with people individually. When I get a number that can accept prison calls, I will send that out.)
If people in prison or elsewhere would like to send me at letter, it can be send to me and labeled “Legal Mail” (this is very important for people in prison to do so the guards do not read the contents of the letter):
- Asa King, Esq.
Transgender Law Center (Southern Regional Office)
P.O. Box 11250
Atlanta, GA 30310
It’s really important that people understand the following:
- We are NOT suing the Georgia DOC. If a lawsuit results from this DOJ investigation, the DOJ will bring the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. government and not individuals who shared stories with the DOJ.
- We are NOT representing them individually, but they are free to pursue any and all legal options both now and in the future.
- They will NOT receive any money or material benefits for sharing their story for us, the DOJ, or the Georgia DOC even if the DOJ finds that the Georgia DOC violated the law.
So that this information is very clear, we have a standard form that people sign that explains all of this information. We also explain all of this verbally and give people the opportunity to ask questions before they shared their story.