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Settlement in Class-Action Suit Over SMU Conditions at Georgia Prison

by David M. Reutter

A Georgia federal district court has approved a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit challenging conditions and practices in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

The suit was filed pro se in 2015 by prisoner Timothy Gumm, and the district court appointed Sarah Geraghty with the Southern Center for Human Rights to represent him. After two amended complaints and 18 months of discovery, the parties agreed in December 2018 to certify a settlement class and resolve the injunctive and declaratory claims in the complaint.

The case challenged conditions in the SMU and procedures that kept prisoners there. It alleged that solitary confinement, which was defined as 22 hours or more each day without meaningful human contact, presented a substantial risk of serious psychological harm to the class members. Pursuant to the settlement, prison officials will provide a minimum of four hours of out-of-cell-time per day, Monday through Friday. One hour will be in an outside recreation cage and another three will occur “using restraint tables.”

The class members will receive computer tablets that contain “educational materials, games, books, and similar activities.” Prisoners can obtain materials from the Georgia Diagnostic Library, and a mobile library cart will be available each week. They also will be allowed “certain personal property, visitation, telephone calls, access to commissary goods, showers three times a week, and assorted other conditions,” the court wrote.

Additionally, prisoners held in the SMU must be provided the same food, hygiene items, laundry and barbering services as the general population. SMU cells must be kept clean and safe.

The settlement agreement establishes a “general 24-month limit on confinement in SMU,” and class members will be regularly reviewed to “determine whether they will process through the program phases or transfer to a different facility.”

The settlement includes monitoring and enforcement of the agreement’s substantial terms, and provides for attorney fees and costs totaling $425,000. The district court approved the agreement and issued a final judgment on May 7, 2019. See: Gumm v. Jacobs, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Ga.), Case No. 5:15-cv-00041-MTT-CHW. 

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Related legal case

Gumm v. Jacobs