Judge finds Georgia Department of Corrections in contempt, orders court monitor and sanctions

ATLANTA — A federal judge said Friday that the Georgia Department of Corrections was in contempt of court and accused them of failing to follow the terms of an agreement reached in 2019 for reforms that would improve conditions for state prisoners.

Judge Marc Treadwell, Chief Judge of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, wrote in his order that not only did GDC receive an 18-month extension to make reforms rather than face sanctions, he said even after “not much changed,” and that the department “continued to ignore and violate the Court’s injunction.”

Terms of the settlement reached in 2019 required GDC to execute a variety of reforms and improvements to adjust conditions at the Special Management Unit, which is the facility for “close security offender” rehabilitation, according to the department.

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Those reforms included:

  • Inmates must receive at least our hours of out-of-cell time per day, Monday through Friday
  • Inmates must receive 120 minutes of out-of-cell programming per week, such as classes or activities
  • Inmates will receive “GOAL” tablets for personal use
  • Inmates will have access to mobile book carts, weekly, and be able to request library materials
  • Inmates shall have clean cells and be provided with prescribed medication, clean clothing and basic personal items
  • Inmates are entitled to food of the same quality and quantity as the general population, and signs discouraging discussion of nutritional needs with medical staff must be removed

GDC was given an original deadline of nearly three years to implement these changes.

The court found instead, that even what it deemed a “trivial” sign removal was not done.


“The Court pauses to note the issue because it is emblematic of the defendants’ broad refusal to comply with the Court’s injunction, even when the fix is easy,” Treadwell wrote. “Years after the entry of the Court’s injunction, the signs had not been removed.”

Additional changes, such as increased staffing to ensure proper manpower was available to carry out the settlement terms did not materialize, according to Treadwell’s order.

The 100-page order from Treadwell also accuses the department of falsifying documents submitted for court hearings after the settlement was agreed to.

“There was considerable evidence that the defendants were falsifying documentation of review hearings,” Treadwell wrote.

He added that, during review of the settlement efforts, prison staff found program checklists for inmates in part of the prison that “confirm[ed] the defendants were falsifying records” related to the settlement, and the implementation of reforms.

Extensions to implement the necessary changes at the prison were given until a deadline of April 19, 2024. The court concluded that the GDC “were running a four-corner offense and had no desire or intention to comply with the Court’s injunction; they would stall until the injunction expired. The Court can no longer tolerate the defendants’ misconduct and, for the reasons discussed below, holds the defendants in contempt,” Treadwell wrote.

As a result, the federal judge held the GDC in contempt of court and ordered sanctions be levied against the department, as well as to appoint an independent monitor at the facility, extend the injunction requiring the reforms and imposing a daily fine to ensure compliance.

“Because of the defendants’ longstanding and flagrant violations of the Court’s injunction, the Court finds that coercive sanctions are necessary to compel compliance,” Treadwell wrote, ordering that in addition to an award of attorneys fees to the plaintiffs, a group of inmates, the court ordered daily fines of $2,500.

“The fine will be payable upon the termination of the Court’s injunction,” though the GDC would have the payment purged if they comply with the injunction. Treadwell ordered that the injunction would extend until six months after the appointment of the independent monitor, but may be extended by any and/or all parties involved.

Starting May 20, GDC will have to pay $75,000 every 30 days which must be deposited with the Clerk of Court. GDC will also have to pay for the independent monitor, according to the court order.

In response to a request from Channel 2 Action News, the Georgia Department of Corrections declined to comment as it was a legal matter.

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