NAACP files lawsuit over COVID-19 outbreak at Georgia prison

    The Georgia NAACP has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and a contractor on behalf of three Coffee County prisoners over allegations of inadequate COVID-19 testing, lack of safety protocols during the pandemic. Ichigo121212/Pixabay

    This story was updated Monday at 2:22 p.m. with a response from CoreCivic.

    The Georgia NAACP claims in a federal lawsuit that Georgia prison inmates are unreasonably exposed to COVID-19 because the staff does not follow safety protocols and provides inadequate testing and protective equipment for prisoners.

    The U.S. District Court lawsuit, filed in Atlanta against the Georgia Department of Corrections and a contractor on behalf of three inmates, singles out the Coffee County Correctional Facility, which has reported the most infected inmates in the state’s prison system.

    The lawsuit says many prisoners are sleeping too close to each other without masks and that inmates with symptoms often are not getting tested. According to the corrections department, 235 Coffee inmates have tested positive and the facility has had five COVID-19 related deaths. 

    The suit also names CoreCivic as a defendant, the Tennessee-based private contractor that runs the Coffee prison where it oversees roughly 2,600 inmates.

    The NAACP also says that in addition to COVID exposure, black mold and water leaks inside the south Georgia facility pose a health risk.

    “The health of prisoners at Coffee County are continually being disregarded by the prison administration and GDOC officials,” said Rev. James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP. “We have exhausted every avenue to resolve these issues after twelve months of the pandemic and now see no other choice but to seek immediate relief from the courts.” 

    The NAACP asks a federal judge to require that CoreCivic and the corrections department adhere to COVID-19 protocols, including adequate social distancing, providing enough face coverings and increasing testing. 

    A corrections department spokeswoman said the department wouldn’t comment on pending litigation. 

    The corrections department says on its website that it follows public health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and lists various protocols, including visitation restrictions, screening inmates and staff and increased sanitary practices.

    A CoreCivic spokeswoman said it does not comment on pending lawsuits and that the company takes its responsibilities to care for inmates seriously.

    The company said it has followed its COVID mitigation plan and public health authorities’ guidance even before the first reported infections at its detention centers.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.