The Justice Department has opened a sweeping civil rights inquiry into allegations of unconstitutional abuses of prisoners in Georgia while also separately limiting whether federal law enforcement officers can use tactics that include neck restraints like chokeholds and unannounced searches for evidence, reports the New York Times. The Georgia investigation was prompted by documentation of violence in prisons across the state. At least 26 people died in 2020 by confirmed or suspected homicide in Georgia prisons, and 18 homicides, as well as numerous stabbings and beatings, have been reported this year.
Systemic factors such as staffing shortages and high employee turnover, policy and training issues and a lack of accountability for misconduct have been blamed for exacerbating dangerous state prison conditions. The investigation will focus on prisoner-on-prisoner violence and include an open inquiry by the department into the sexual abuse of gay, lesbian and transgender prisoners by staff members and other prisoners. Depending on the investigation’s findings, the DOJ could place the state’s Department of Corrections under a consent decree. Meanwhile, in addition to prohibiting federal law enforcement officials from using chokeholds and so-called carotid restraints, the DOJ has also limited the circumstances under which federal law enforcement could conduct unannounced, or so-called no-knock, entries. The policies apply only to federal officers, so they do not change state and local policing rules