The NAACP has filed suit against the Georgia Department of Corrections and the Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Ga. The civil rights organization is calling out the privately run prison for allegedly leaving an already vulnerable inmate population more susceptible to coronavirus exposure.
According to a statement from the Georgia NAACP, inmates are forced to sleep in tight quarters in their dormitories with little or no space between them, poor sanitation, and infrequent COVID-19 testing. About 60 percent of Georgia’s prison population is Black, according to a study from the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Coffee Correctional Facility and the GDC are flagrantly ignoring the risk created by COVID-19,” Georgia NAACP State President, James Woodall said in a statement. “They’re not testing individuals who display symptoms or who are exposed to symptomatic cases. They’re not enforcing social distancing.
“They’re not providing enough masks for those who are incarcerated. And they’re not making guards wear masks. Instead of a sensible plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they’ve adopted what amounts to a herd immunity strategy for those locked down,” he said.
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The GDC outlines on its website the protocols it takes in providing protections against coronavirus for staff and inmates, including suspension of prison tours and volunteer visits, screening of staff, suspension of non-essential offender movement, and testing of new inmate arrivals.
“The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) is responding with all available resources to help prevent/mitigate the potential introduction and spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) into our facilities,” a statement on the agency’s website reads.
But the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the spread of coronavirus through the state’s correctional system is a serious problem. More than 3,200 inmates have been reported infected and 88 have died. About 1,500 GDC employees have also tested positive.
GDC figures show 10 percent of inmates in Coffee County, Ga., have tested positive, but Woodall says that misrepresents the scale of the spread of the disease among prisoners.
“The correctional facility has refused to test many people with symptoms and those exposed to the virus,” he said. “So not only do correctional officials not actually know the number of individuals who’ve contracted COVID-19, but they also have no means of trying to keep those on the inside safe.”
Coffee Correctional is operated by CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America), which along with GEO Corporation contracts with the GDC to house inmates in four facilities.
On Tuesday, President Biden signed an executive order directing the attorney general not to renew federal contracts with private prison companies as part of the new Racial Equity initiative. This does not impact Georgia’s contracts with the two companies, as the state prison system is separate from federal prisons, but according to Reuters, the two companies could lose up to $1 billion in revenue.
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