On April 27th, protesters demonstrated at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse
and the Athens-Clarke County Jail, calling for a release of any pretrial detainees and inmates with 60 days or less remaining on their sentence. These demands align with the World Health Organization’s guidance on prisons which state, “Enhanced consideration should be given to resorting to non-custodial measures at all stages of the administration of criminal justice, including at the pre-trial, trial and sentencing as well as post-sentencing stages.”
Since that protest, the Georgia Department of Correction has announced six more inmate deaths due to COVID-19. Positive cases in detention centers will not decrease without swift and effective action. The Georgia Department of corrections reports 483 total positive cases of COVID-19 of both staff and inmates, and 271 total recovered cases.
Athens Mutual Aid Network (AMAN) has continued to call upon leadership to adequately address the incarcerated community’s increased risk of COVID-19. The health of our incarcerated neighbors impacts the health of us all. WHO guidance states, “[E]xperience shows that prisons, jails and similar settings where people are gathered in close proximity may act as a source of infection, amplification and spread of infectious diseases within and beyond prisons. Prison health is therefore widely considered as public health.”
In order to protect all of our Athens community, we must treat prison health in the same way we protect public health. AMAN member Vanessa Raditz wrote in Flagpole on May 6th, detailing several crucial steps to protect all of the Athens community. Raditz, who holds a Masters degree in public health from the University of California-Berkeley, called for releasing pretrial inmates, adequate and transparent safety measures within the jail, and increasing support for released inmates. These steps would save lives of incarcerated Athenians.
Unfortunately, many pretrial inmates are still in our local jail. According to the Clarke County Sheriff's Office unofficial report, between May 5th-12th, seventy-seven individuals were booked into jail. Read the unofficial list of current inmates here.
The Clarke County Sherriff’s Office claims “the sheriff is responsible for the physical health and welfare of all inmates in the jail.” To uphold this duty to our community, our criminal justice system at every level must enact a more and more thorough response to COVID-19 to communicate those measures transparently with our community.
Want to learn more about the incarcerated community in Athens? Join the American Constitution Society’s online panel discussion with County Commissioner Tim Denson, Judge Ryan Hope of the Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court, and Tiffany Williams Roberts from Community Engagement & Movement Building Counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights. The panel will take place on Wednesday, May 13th from 6:00-7:00 pm and will be moderated by former State Representative Deborah Gonzalez. Register to watch the panel here.