by Robin Kemp

The following is a list of complaints included in allegations that the Clayton County Jail is not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The allegations are part of the 112-page lawsuit Jones v. Hill, filed July 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The plaintiffs “and similarly situated detainees” say their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, have been violated.

Alan Parker, legal advisor for the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, has denied a COVID-19 breakout in the jail and accused the media of having “falsely exaggerated the facts to suit their story.” Parker did not refute the allegations, adding, “we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit in a court of law, not in the press.”

The Plaintiffs

Rhonda Jones, 58, of Las Vegas, NV, Housing Unit 3-3: suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She has been in the jail since April 9 and is being held on a felony charge awaiting trial and cannot pay her $10,000 bond because she is indigent. Jail records show she also has $1,200 in fees. She has been hospitalized twice for pneumonia in the past year.

Randolph Mitchell, 72, of Jonesboro, Housing Unit 5-5: has high blood pressure and may need a pacemaker soon due to a heart condition. He has been in the jail since Aug. 19, 2019 and served more than 10 months of a 12-month sentence for a misdemeanor simple battery conviction.

Michael Singleton, 59, of Riverdale, Housing Unit 5-5: has high blood pressure. He has been in jail since Feb. 17 and is serving a one-year sentence for violating probation, so is not eligible for bond.

Barry Watkins, 60, of Winder, Housing Unit 5-1: has diabetes that requires insulin injections and a “controlled diet.” He has been in jail since Aug. 31, 2018 and is awaiting trial on a charge of theft by deception. He cannot pay his $5,000 bond because he is indigent. Jail records show his bond at $5,500 plus $750 in fees.

Six classes of similarly-situated detainees: These groups include the Principal Pretrial Class, the Principal Post-Ajudication Class, the Medically Vulnerable Pretrial Subclass, the Medically Vulnerable Post-Ajudication Subclass, the Disability Pretrial Subclass, and the Disability Post-Ajudication Subclass.

Inmate grievance timeline

The suit contains some of the written grievances submitted by inmates about conditions in the jail and COVID-19. Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a request for public records. CCSO gave the lawyers “28 grievances related to COVID-19, dated between April 1 and June 5. For 21 of those 28 grievances, no one from jail staff appears to have responded to the detainee.”

Inmates crowded into hallway, without social distancing, for Magistrate Court appearances held via Zoom

Some inmates’ grievances follow:

  • May 14: “J.P. stated that he was concerned about not having a face mask and asked jailers ‘we have one towel that we dry off with and we are to wear that on our face?'”
  • May 15: “C.C. wrote that he had congestive heart failure, was confined to an overcrowded cell, and had not been issued a protective mask.”
  • May 16: “B.T. stated that he lacked ‘proper cleaning chemicals for [his] cell,’ noted ‘no proper social distancing,’ and voiced concern that detainees had to “make [their] own protective mask. T.J. stated that there were no cleaning or disinfectant supplies being distributed and stated that there was improper ‘screening of bunkmates after one is found with [COVID-19] symptoms.'”
  • May 17: “D.H. stated “I have . . . been appointted [sic] inmate worker, but have not receive[d] a face mask[.] (I wear a dirty torn towel on my face).”
  • May 18: “Q.W. stated that no cleaning supplies were being distributed. He added that“sick inmates don[’]t [receive]medical attention in [a] timely manner.”
  • May 19: “Q.T. stated that he was tested for COVID-19 on May 4 and sent back to his dorm before receiving the test results. He learned that he had tested positive on May 19.”
  • May 22: “C.S. wrote that “We have not been given an[y]info. related to COVID 19” and noted that he had no access to masks or cleaning supplies.He added: “RESOLUTION, I REQUEST TO ADDRESS THIS MATTER A.S.A.P. BECAUSE MY LI[F]E AND OTHER INMATES LIVES AR[E] IN JEOPARDY.”
  • May 29: “M.M. stated ‘I have been from top to bott[o]m of jail and have yet to receive a mask, the living conditions here are terrible, it is very unsanitary[.] [T]here are never no chemicals no bleach, I sleep on floor T [sic] toilet and I wake up daily with my mat floating in fec[e]s water.’ J.B. wrote that he tested positive for COVID-19 and did not receive necessary medical attention.”
  • May 31: “A.H. wrote that he was ‘scared for [his] life’ because ‘conditions in this jail’ are ‘really dangerous.’ A.B. noted that many ‘inmate workers’ had tested positive for COVID-19, that he had no face mask, and that ‘the staff here is not taking this pandemic serious[ly].'”
  • June 1: “D.J. wrote ‘this grievance is being submitted due to C.C.D.C. failure to follow Covid-19 guidelines and regulation[s,] which are placing myself and others lives in jeopardy.’ Q.T. wrote that he worked in an area where people infected with COVID-19 were quarantined. He stated ‘[f]or a full week Ive asked an officer on every rank from co to lt for [a] protective mask but nobody has helped me out.’ J.G. expressed concern about ‘the Covid-19 outbreak amongst the inmates in dorm D-7’ and asked for supplies to clean the bunks of infected people.”
  • June 3: “K.R. wrote that the jail’s ‘failure to follow Covid-19 guidelines’ placed his life in jeopardy.”
  • June 4: “J.I. stated that ‘[n]othing has changed in spite of Covid 19,’ ‘[o]ur cells are seldom cleaned,’ and that phones and kiosks were seldom sanitized.”
  • Also in May 2020, plaintiff Mitchell traded two soup packets for a pair of underwear from another inmate so that he could fashion a face mask after an officer allegedly told him “he could not have a mask because he was not a trustee.” That same month, M.B., 68, “who recently underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer, asked officers and nurses for a face mask.” When she did not get one, she “used a torn piece of jail-issued underwear to try to protect herself from the virus.” She is no longer in the jail.
Clayton County Jail inmate using towel as face mask during June 5 Magistrate Court appearance on Zoom

COVID-19 in “The Hill-ton”

According to the suit, sickness began to spread about three months ago.

In late April, “multiple people in one of the open dormitories became seriously ill, with symptoms including coughing, fever, and vomiting. The sick detainees remained in the open dormitory for over a week being moved to the infirmary. Apart from spraying the sick detainees’ bedding with an unidentified cleaning product, staff did nothing to sanitize the dormitory, and instead assigned other detainees to occupy those beds. Several additional detainees in that dormitory have since experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”

By mid-May, “R.S., a man in Housing Unit 7, experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including a high fever, body aches, loss of appetite, and loss of his senses of taste and smell. When the man complained to officers that he had these symptoms and needed medical attention, the response was that there was nothing officers could do and that the man should put in a medical request using the kiosk. The man’s cellmate submitted a medical request on his behalf. For three days, the man continued to seek help from officers, but he was not taken to the medical unit. Three days after submitting a medical request and not receiving a response, the man, with the assistance of his cellmate, was able to get a nurse’s attention during pill call. The nurse sent the man back to his cell until late in the evening, when he was taken to the medical unit. Jail staff did not provide the man’s cellmate with instructions or equipment to sanitize his cell. The cellmate resorted to using personal soap to clean the cell. The cellmate was not assessed for COVID-19 symptoms. Soon thereafter, another prisoner was assigned to the bed that R.S. had vacated.”

In late May, “a detainee in Housing Unit 8 complained of a fever, shortness of breath, and back pain. The detainee and his cellmates informed officers, but the officers did not respond. It took two days for the man to be seen by medical staff, after which he was removed from Housing Unit 8. Staff made no effort to clean the sick man’s cell or assess whether his former roommates had symptoms of COVID-19. Another prisoner was soon after assigned to the sick man’s bed.”

Death sentence?

The suit claims that, because the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping inmates from “resolving their court case and completing their sentences,” inmates with disabilities “may experience long-term debilitating symptoms that prevent them from attending court appearances…those who die from COVID-19 will never reach a resolution of their court cases or, for those serving sentences, complete the sentence imposed.”

In order to accommodate those inmates, the suit suggests, “modifications could include releasing individuals who qualify for release under state law, not requiring them to be held in multi-person cells, providing more frequent and thorough cleaning of their living areas, issuing them adequate protective equipment, and similar measures.” Because, the plaintiffs assert, these things have not been done, Hill and the other defendants allegedly have discriminated against them based on their disability status.

“In anticipation of this litigation,” the suit claims, the jail started handing out masks “made of a thin paper-like material” to “a limited number of additional people” in early June. Those masks “are not consistently replaced or cleaned when they break or become soiled,” the suit alleges, adding “There are still numerous detainees who have never been provided a mask by jail staff.”

Alleged jail conditions

The Clayton County Jail has 768 cells, which are divided into “eight octagonal housing units, divided between four buildings.” Each housing unit contains six pods of 16 cells each. Each pod has “two or three showers for up to 48 detainees.”

One corrections officer sits in a booth the middle of each housing unit to monitor the six pods (96 cells total). Another officer is supposed to monitor the floor. However, “due to understaffing, most housing units have only a single officer in a booth overseeing up to 288 detainees.” The booth officer has to stay put “unless relieved by another officer to conduct headcounts, distribute meals or medication, or respond to problems.”

Aerial image of Clayton County Jail included in Jones v. Hill

The jail also has eight “dormitories,” each of which is “designed for up to 48 people,” where inmate workers and weekenders live. Inmate workers do jobs like laundry, while weekenders serve on work release. The jail’s “nominal bed capacity” is 1,920. However, the suit alleges, “in practice it does not hold that many beds because maintenance problems render some cells unusable, and operational concerns, such as classification decisions, limit where certain detainees may be housed.”

  • The jail is at “nearly 100 percent capacity,” despite other Georgia jails having reduced their populations during COVID-19. “[T]he statewide jail population fell by 9,962 people between March 5 and May 7, 2020, ending with an average statewide jail population at 57 percent of overall jail capacity–down from 77 percent two months earlier.”
  • “[M]ost detainees [are] housed three to a two-bed call. The third person sleeps on the floor near an open toilet. Detainees interact in close proximity to numerous others, with no physical distancing, during meal distribution, pill call, video court, and other out-of-cell activities.”
  • “Detainees share cells, showers, telephones, and other fixtures that are rarely if ever sanitized. To maintain personal hygiene, they are issued four ounces of liquid soap per week (for bathing, cleaning, and, in some instances, laundering of essential items) and small quantities of toilet paper and toothpaste.”
  • “For most detainees, the sum total of Defendants’ prevention effort has been to tell detainees to use a towel, t-shirt, sock, or underwear as a makeshift facemask, and to limit some (but nit all) out-of-cell time to groups of 12 people. From mid-March through the end of May, Defendants made no discernible effort to ensure minimally adequate personal hygiene, facility sanitation, and disease prevention efforts.”
  • “Following the start of Plaintiffs’ investigation into the jail’s conditions, jailers in early June distributed some facemasks and began cleaning certain areas of the jail more regularly, but those minor changes are insufficient to protect detainees from spreading infection. Cleaning occurs in a cursory manner, at irregular intervals, and often at the initiative of individual detainees. Sanitizing products remain scarce and are often available only to officers.”
  • “If an infected person is removed from the cell, no consistent effort is made to sanitize the detainee’s former living areas or to quarantine those who shared the cell. Instead, new people are immediately assigned to occupy the beds of people who are suspected to be infected.”
  • “The rise in infections in May and June is a direct result of Defendants’ consistent and ongoing failures to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail.”
  • “{T}he jail regularly places three–and sometimes four–people in cells designed only for two, even when the jail’s population is below its design capacity.”
  • “When three or four people are placed in a cell, the third and fourth persons in each cell sleep on a thin mattress placed on the floor. An open toilet shared by cell occupants is feet away from where that person sleeps.”
Image of typical cell in Clayton County Jail included in Jones v. Hill
  • “Requiring prisoners to sleep on the floor as a matter of routine, as occurs in the Clayton County Jail, has been found unconstitutional….At a minimum this situation imposes a duty on Defendants to take reasonable steps to mitigate the health hazards that these cramped quarters create.”
  • “Detainees held in cells normally get one to two hours per day of out-of-cell time and are confined to their cells continuously for the remainder of the time.”
  • When inmates are allowed out of their cells, “they are restricted to a dayroom area inside of the pod for ‘free time,’ which is detainees’ opportunity to shower, use the telephone, or use the electronic kiosk, a computer device used to file requests for medical care, submit grievances, and order items from the jail commissary. Detainees interact with other detainees during free time, often conversing or playing card games.”
  • “The majority of two-person cells in the jail house three detainees. This is in part because the population of the jail has sharply increased in recent years.”
  • Average jail capacity from June 2019 to June 2020 has been 101 percent.
  • Jail capacity in April 2020 exceeded its nominal capacity of 1,920 and “was a marked increase from the population level at the same time in previous years.”
  • “Defendant Hill has established various policies and practices with no discernible purpose other than to dehumanize people in his custody….[and] adopted a practice of administering repulsive ‘special mamagement meals’–more commonly known as ‘nutraloaf’–as punishment for certain infractions.”
  • “The jail is known among detainees as a ‘hands-on facility’ with respect to use-of-force practices, meaning that officers frequently resort to unnecessary physical force to punish detainees. Defendants have used restraint chairs to punish detainees who displease the Sheriff. Detainees are punished for committing minor rule infractions, such as failing to fold the end of their toilet paper roll into the letter ‘V.'”
  • “Through the end of May 2020, the showers were cleaned infrequently. In some pods, showers were not cleaned for months at a time, because jail officers failed to provide detainees with cleaning materials. In other pods, showers were cleaned at most once per week.”
  • “Assuming that each detainee in a pod showers daily, that the pod has three working showers (not all do), and that showers are cleaned weekly (most are not), the average shower would be used at least 112 times between cleanings….an obvious way for contagious diseases to spread among many detainees…..Like the showers, the toilet and sink in the dayroom were cleaned infrequently (less than weekly in most units) through late May, making them another obvious hub for contagious diseases to pass between detainees.”
  • “Each dayroom…has a toilet and a sink. Though most detainees have toilets in their cells, certain cells have toilets that do not work, and detainees assigned to those cells must wait for free time to use the dayroom toilet.”
  • “Most pods have five telephones for up to 48 detainees. The telephones are spaced approximately 18 inches apart, resulting in people using the telephones in close proximity to one another, Many telephones are broken. In none of the units are detainees provided with sanitary wipes or disinfectant to clean the telephone between uses. As a result, detainees who use the telephones have indirect contact with numerous people who have touched and breathed on the telephones before them.”
  • “Most but not all pods have at least one electronic multipurpose kiosk. As with the telephones and showers, the jail has created no system by which the kiosks are cleaned between uses.”
  • “Detainees in certain pods are denied any access to a kiosk. In addition, jail staff often deny detainees access to the kiosk as a punishment for minor rule violations. For detainees who cannot access a kiosk, there is no way to submit a medical request form or other kind of request, because the jail does not use or distribute paper forms.”
  • “A purported grievance procedure is available on the kiosk only, not through paper forms. Grievances are rarely answered, and detainees cannot have more than two grievances pending at a time. People who have two grievances pending cannot file grievances about new problems. Many detainees have had two grievances pending for months without a response. There is no way to withdraw a pending grievance via the kiosk, and detainees are given no guidance about how to appeal a grievance decision. No information about the grievance procedure is given to detainees when they enter the jail; detainees do not receive handbooks explaining the grievance procedure and other jail rules.”
  • “Detainees in segregation units and other housing units without a kiosk are completely barred from accessing the grievance procedure, as are detainees who have been deprived of kiosk access as a disciplinary sanction.”
  • “Due to understaffing, detainees have difficulty notifying staff members of emergencies and face delays in getting aid when emergencies occur. Although cells originally had intercoms and emergency call buttons installed, the call buttons appear to have been disabled in many cells.To get officers’ attention, detainees must yell and beat on their cell doors, then wait for an available officer.”
  • “At best, the sum total of personal hygiene supplies issued to detainees includes one approximately four-ounce bottle of liquid soap per week, toilet paper, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.In practice, the jail often runs out of one or more of these items each week, resulting in some detainees going without soap, toothpaste, or toilet paper.Some detainees must wait a week or more after entering the jail to receive a toothbrush.”
  • “Women often go without sanitary napkins and have to stuff their underwear (if they have any) with toilet paper (if they have any) during their menstrual cycles.”
  • “Detainees are only permitted to shave for court appearances, if at all.”
  • “The small amount of liquid soap issued is all detainees have with which to clean themselves, their cells, and in some cases, their clothing for an entire week. This is insufficient to maintain minimally adequate personal hygiene, especially during a pandemic.”
  • “Due to lack of supplies and inadequate supervision, the “inmate workers”responsible for most housing units do not regularly clean common area tables, telephones, kiosks, showers, bathrooms, door handles, and other items used frequently by detainees.”
  • “Some detainees recognize the importance of sanitation and proactively attempt to clean the units with what few supplies are available—such as bath soap—but most officers do not promote those efforts because Defendants are indifferent to the matter.”
  • “The overcrowded cells where detainees spend most of their time are almost never sanitized. The only cleaning materials provided regularly are a broom and a dirty mop for the floor. In some housing units, there is only one mop for all 96 cells. There is no regular schedule for cleaning and sanitizing toilets, sinks, bedframes, walls, doors, and other cell fixtures. Some detainees resort to using their four-ounce weekly supply of liquid soap and bits of toilet paper to wipe down their cells.”
  • “While jailers reportedly increased the frequency of cell cleaning in late May, detainees report that such cleaning often involves only the spraying of a teaspoon-like quantity of cleaner into their cell sinks.”
  • “The lack of adequate sanitation is evident throughout the jail. Many cells and showers have significant amounts of mold and mildew in them. Dorms are infested with roaches, spiders, gnats, and ants.”
  • “The only clothing items issued to detainees upon entry into the jail are one jumpsuit, one towel, and one washcloth. The jail does not issue socks or undergarments, which must be purchased by detainees. Those who lack money to purchase undergarments go without them.”
  • “[D]etainees who wish to clean the toilets, sinks, and other fixtures in their cells sometimes resort to using their jail-issued towel and washcloth, or pieces of toilet paper, to wipe down surfaces.”
  • “Laundry is supposed to be collected approximately once every week to two weeks. There are often not enough clean jumpsuits to go around, resulting in detainees wearing the same jumpsuit for weeks or even a month at a time. Many detainees use the same towels and washcloths for months between laundering.Sheets are often not laundered for a month or more at a time.Many detainees go weeks without sheets, sleeping directly on thin plastic mattresses while waiting for their sheets to be returned.”
  • “The 20-year-old jail facility has recurring maintenance issues. Many toilets are inoperable. Some cells have putrid standing water in them from leaking toilet fixtures. In certain pods, water leaks result in puddles of standing water in the common areas. Defective showers flood the dayroom and cause water to seep into cells. Some detainees resort to placing their blankets around their toilets or against their cell doors to absorb the water.”

“Some cells have putrid standing water in them from leaking toilet fixtures….Defective showers flood the dayroom and cause water to seep into cells. Some detainees resort to placing their blankets around their toilets or against their cell doors to absorb the water.”

Jones v. Hill federal class action suit describing conditions in Clayton County Jail

CDC recommendations for jails

The lawsuit alleges that the Clayton County Jail has taken “few” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. Those CDC recommendations include:

  • Signs throughout the jail, including signs for low-literacy and non-English-speaking inmates, explaining COVID-19 symptoms and hand hygiene directions
  • Providing “clear information about the presence of COVID-19 cases within a facility and the need to increase social distancing and maintain hygiene precautions”
  • Providing soap “sufficient to allow frequent hand washing” at no cost to inmates
  • Making sure sufficient cleaning supplies are on hand and having a plan to restock them as needed, “including tissues, cleaning supplies, and EPA-registered disinfectants effective against the virus that causes COVID-19”
  • Making sure sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies “consistent with the healthcare capabilities of the facility” are on hand, also with a plan to restock as needed in case of COVID-19, “ncluding standard medical supplies for daily clinic needs, and recommended PPE (facemasks, N95 respirators, eye protection, disposable medical gloves, and disposable gowns/one-piece coveralls)”
  • Considering “relaxing restrictions on allowing alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the secure setting where security concerns allow”
  • Considering “allowing staff to carry individual-sized bottles for their personal hand hygiene while on duty”
  • “Suspend[ing] co-pays for incarcerated people seeking medical evaluation for respiratory symptoms”
  • More “intensified cleaning and disinfecting procedures” several times daily for “high-touch surfaces and objects “[s]everal times per day”
  • Screening all new inmates before intake, enforcing social distancing in waiting areas, and taking temperatures daily in units where COVID-19 cases have been identified
  • Ensuring that “incarcerated/detained individuals receive medical evaluation and treatment at the first signs of COVID-19 symptoms” and evaluating “whether COVID-19 testing is indicated”
  • Requiring any inmate with fever, cough, or shortness of breath to wear a face mask and placing that person under medical isolation
  • Rearranging bunks so that they are six feet apart in all directions
  • Increasing space in lines and waiting areas, ideally six feet apart

Clayton jail bucks statewide COVID-19 trends

While the Clayton County Jail provides almost no public information about COVID-19 in the facility, the Georgia Department of Corrections places that information front and center on its website and updates it frequently.

As of July 1, according to the suit, the Georgia Department of Corrections had confirmed 888 inmates and 223 prison staff had contracted COVID-19 statewide. Of that number, 22 inmates and one staffer have died.

However, the suit alleges, Clayton County Jail has remained near capacity, increasing inmate population since the COVID-19 emergency and making no provisions for social distancing

On June 8, “the Clayton County Jail–based on testing fewer than 150 detainees–had 32 confirmed cases of detainees with COVID-19, more than 20 percent of those tested. Yet the jail population was at 96 percent of capacity on June 4, 2020, with most cells housing three detainees.”

The suit accuses the defendants of failing “to take reasonable steps to respond to the threat of the virus,” thereby placing “detainees and staff at the Clayton County Jail…at grave risk of death or serious illness in the absence of court-ordered relief.” Specifically, it alleges Hill and the other defendants have failed to provide adequate sanitation and personal hygiene, to take “reasonable steps to ensure effective social distancing,” to provide “adequate protective equipment,” to “adequately identify and respond to COVID-19 cases,” and to provide inmates with information about avoiding COVID-19 infection.

It also accuses the defendants of “fail[ing] to make reasonable efforts to reduce the jail population,” noting that, three months after Gov. Brian Kemp had declared a public health emergency, the jail “was operating at 96 percent capacity, with 1,847 detainees confined in the jail designed for 1,920 according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.” That headcount was “the highest population recorded by the Department for the month of June since 2015.”

By comparison, the suit notes, many other jurisdictions “responded to the pandemic by ensuring their jails were operating well below capacity to facilitate social distancing.”

Inmates serving misdemeanors or felony probation violations can get credit for good behavior at a sheriff’s discretion under Georgia law. However, “[a]s a result of a pre-pandemic policy decision [in January 2014], Defendant Hill does not consider early release for most of the [eligible] detainees.”

“We are not releasing anyone from jail unless they are being bonded out.”

–Sheriff Victor Hill to Clayton County spokesperson Valerie Fuller, March 17 e-mail

The suit noted Hill’s recent “Operation Gabriel,” which Hill announced he was ending one day after FBI agents executed a warrant on Hill’s office in another federal suit alleging inmate abuse, netted over 500 arrests. The operation was named after Gabriel Vasquez, who was killed in his own home by a stray bullet from a street fight. Hill vowed he would track down the boy’s killers, pouring manpower into the Conley area and effecting “579 arrests, 66 recovered firearms, 14 recovered stolen vehicles and over $63,000 dollars in seized drug money. ” Hill added, “Most importantly, enough information was derived from the streets to put Homicide Detectives in the right direction to solve Gabriel’s murder.”

In addition to those 579 inmates, the suit alleges, “employees of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement entities have continued to arrest and book people for minor offenses, even where arrest is not required by law.”

Some of those inmates and their time in custody as of July 1 include:

  • T.S. jailed 27 days for jaywalking and disorderly conduct, bail set at $2,400
  • J.P., jailed 26 days for disorderly conduct, bail set at $1,300
  • G.Y., jailed 30 days for shoplifting, bail set at $2,400
  • H.D. jailed 89 days for criminal trespass, bail set at $2,400
  • T.L., jailed for 176 days for public drunkenness, bail set at $1,300

The suit accuses local law enforcement agencies of arresting people for minor offenses, “knowing that some such persons will have bond amounts set that they are unable to pay,” some of whom “are jailed for weeks or months only because they cannot afford to pay bail.”

Because the jail allows inmates to congregate without social distancing during their time outside their cells, and by “requir[ing] that detainees congregate in close proximity every single day in order to obtain food and medicine,” as well as medical visits and video court appearances, the plaintiffs allege the jail is putting them at risk of catching COVID-19.

What the plaintiffs want

The suit asks the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Georgia to assume jurisdiction, certify the case as a class-action suit, and order Hill to release all Medically Vulnerable and Disability subclass members “to home confinement or other safe location, through an expedited process to be ordered by the Court.”

It also asks the court to order the jail to implement social distancing, provide PPE, and release “certain detainees,” as well as “provide safe and sanitary conditions of confinement to Plaintiffs and other class members, with heightened protections for detainees who are susceptible to serious and/or fatal COVID-19 infections.”

In addition, the plaintiffs seek a writ of habeas corpus “directing the immediate release or transfer of members of the Medically Vulnerable and Disability Subclasses to home confinement or other safe location” and attorney’s fees, expenses and litigation costs, plus “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.”

View of the Clayton County Jail

For inmates and family members

People who believe they or their loved one are at risk because they are or have been in the Clayton County Jail during COVID-19 can e-mail ACLU of Georgia at or the Southern Center for Human Rights at for assistance.

Listen to the National Constitution Center’s We the People podcast episode “Will Coronavirus Change Criminal Justice?”