Criminal Justice

DOJ Opens Probe Into Jail Where Inmate Died Covered in Insects

The Justice Department will investigate reports that inmates at Fulton County Jail are subject to filthy living conditions.


Last week, the Department of Justice announced an investigation into the Fulton County jail in Atlanta. It will focus on reports of inadequate inmate living conditions, insufficient access to mental and physical health care, and violence against inmates. 

"People in prisons and jails are entitled to basic protections of their civil rights," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a July 13 press release. "We launched this investigation into the Fulton County Jail based on serious allegations of unsafe, unsanitary living conditions at the jail, excessive force and violence within the jail, discrimination against incarcerated individuals with mental health issues, and failure to provide adequate medical care to incarcerated individuals."

The investigation comes in the wake of the death of LaShawn Thompson, a mentally ill inmate who died in squalid conditions in the jail's psychiatric ward last September. Thompson, who had schizophrenia, had been jailed at the facility for three months, following his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. 

According to jail documents, Thompson's body was found covered in lice, bedbugs, and lesions. Graphic photos released by Thompson's family further show that his cell was extremely filthy and covered in small insects when his body was found. An independent autopsy released by Thompson's family in May listed his cause of death as "severe neglect," noting Thompson was suffering from a "severe body insect infestation."

However, Thompson's living conditions are not rare at the Fulton County jail. According to a 2022 report by the Southern Center for Human Rights, every single inmate in the jail's psychiatric unit had either lice, scabies, or both. The report also found that 90 percent of inmates in this unit were not completing "activities of daily living" like "showering, dressing, getting out of bed, walking, and using the toilet—or receiving essential medications." Further, 90 percent of these inmates were also deemed significantly malnourished and showing signs of cachexia, a "wasting syndrome leading to the loss of muscle and fat, often seen in people with late-stage cancers."

The Justice Department probe will focus on possible violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act and will investigate both inmate living conditions and reports of violence and excessive force against inmates.

 "The unconstitutional conditions that we see too often inside jails and prisons have no place in society today," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the DOJ press release. "We are committed to ensuring jail and prison facilities provide constitutional conditions, in which all people can live safely and receive medical care. Incarceration should never include exposure to unconstitutional living conditions, including the risk of serious harm from violence."