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April 29, 2020

The ACLU's Federal FOIA is Supported by the Council of Prison Locals Which Currently Represents 30,000 Correctional Officers

ATLANTA — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and 35 ACLU affiliates filed coordinated public records requests with Georgia and the Trump administration that seek information on what the Bureau of Prisons, governors and departments of corrections knew about the potentially catastrophic impacts of COVID-19 on their prisons and the communities surrounding them. 

The ACLU of Georgia’s records requests follow the release of a first-of-its-kind epidemiological model that shows that as many as 200,000 people could die from COVID-19 — double the government estimate — if the federal government and states fail to release people from jails as part of the public health efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. To date, there have been 296 confirmed cases (214 persons who are incarcerated, 82 staff member) and 8 (7 persons who are incarcerated, 1 staff member) deaths in Georgia DOC facilities

In response to the ACLU model, a Trump administration spokesperson refused to comment. The ACLU is now filing these FOIA requests to find out what the administration knew and when it knew it, as COVID-19 has begun to infect and kill people incarcerated in and working in federal and state prisons and jails as well as the surrounding communities. 

The ACLU of Georgia is seeking records that will:  

  • Expose whether and when Governor Kemp and Commissioner Ward first understood the magnitude of the risk that COVID-19 posed to people living and working in state and federal prisons and the surrounding communities;
  • Reveal whether models relied upon by Georgia were fundamentally flawed by failing to account for the magnifying effect that prisons have on the spread of COVID-19 inside and outside detention facilities;
  • Seek copies of any recommendations made to prevent COVID-19 spread to see what was ignored;
  • Discover communications, including emails, among senior officials as the first infections and deaths occurred within the Georgia Department of Corrections and state facilities; 
  • Uncover firsthand complaints and grievances made directly by the staff and people incarcerated in Georgia who had prior knowledge of the horrifying lack of planning, hygiene, and care inside federal prisons as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“Public health experts in Georgia have rung multiple alarm bells about the spread of COVID-19 in our prison system. Despite those warnings, the depopulation of jails, prisons, and other detention facilities continues too slowly to avoid catastrophe.” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Our FOIA requests will show what the governor and commissioner knew about the impacts of COVID-19 on our prison system ahead of its spread but chose to ignore, and what they failed to discover by relying on faulty models.”

ACLU advocacy across the nation has led to at least 20,000 fewer people in jails and prisons in order to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives both within these institutions and in their surrounding communities. The ACLU is fighting for thousands more to be released to help stop the spread of COVID-19.