Washington, D.C. — This morning, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chair Jon Ossoff convened a hearing investigating corruption, abuse, and misconduct at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta.
During the first panel, the Subcommittee is hearing testimony from Erika Ramirez, PhD, former Chief Psychologist at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta; Terri Whitehead, former Jail Administrator at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta; and Rebecca Shepard, a staff attorney for the Federal Defender Program in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
“As the chief psychologist at USP Atlanta from 2018 to 2021, I repeatedly reported ongoing uncorrected gross mismanagement of suicide prevention practices, staff misconduct, and general operational deficiencies,” Dr. Ramirez said in her opening statement. “I repeatedly expressed my concerns about other systematic failings to management and none nothing was done. Despite desperate need for reform. Any suggestion for change was met with resistance.”
“I am here because of the many abuses and gross mismanagement I personally witnessed while serving at USP Atlanta. I was shocked and appalled by the USP Atlanta big picture. On a daily basis, there were numerous policy violations, which put the staff, inmates, and the local community in danger,” Whitehead said in her opening statement. “For example, there were so many rats inside the facility, dining hall and food preparation areas, that staff intentionally left doors open so the many stray cats that hung around the prison could catch the rats.”
“At USP Atlanta, “the Atlanta Way” is where staff are not held accountable for misconduct. Inmates are not challenged for negative behavior, and regular maintenance and routine repairs are non-existent,” Whitehead continued. “Staff members are actually involved in physical fights at work, which cases are uninvestigated, and our staff subsequently promoted within. Marijuana is routinely smelled inside the prison, but there are no searches to determine which inmates for smoking. Inmates are observed in zombie state, and nothing is done in an effort to determine the source of the illegal substances”
“Defenders see firsthand how USP Atlanta subjects people to inhumane and substandard conditions and limits their access to attorneys, which in turn interferes with their Sixth Amendment right to counsel,” Shepard said in her opening statement. “The result is deplorable and punitive conditions which courts defenders and our clients have observed for decades. USP Atlanta's practices and policies do not allow us to fulfill our constitutional and ethical obligations of zealous advocacy.”
Please find rough transcripts of the witnesses’ opening statements below:
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