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Atlanta Civil Rights Group Starts Prison Project

 ATLANTA -- The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) has announced the launch of The Damon Lee Project for Accountability and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System, an innovative program that will provide focus and structure for its ongoing work in bringing more transparency and accountability to the operation of government agencies, particularly prisons, jails and law enforcement. SCHR Senior Attorney Sarah Geraghty has been appointed project director.  

The new program is named in memory of Damon Lee, an inmate in Autry State Prison, who was beaten to death over a period of several hours during the night of February 7, 2002, by a cellmate with a reputation for violence, while officers who were required to check on Mr. Lee every half-hour to ensure his safety, did nothing to stop the attack. The law firm of King & Spalding represented Mr. Lee’s mother, Johnnie Kitchen, in a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the warden and other prison officials. The case spent years in the court system and resulted in a record-setting judgment in 2009. King & Spalding is contributing a portion of the fees it recovered in the case to fund The Damon Lee Project.

In Georgia, one in thirteen adults are under correctional control making the corrections system the state’s largest and most expensive public institution.  Rather than operating prisons as dark, mysterious places at the far edge of democracy, all parts of the criminal justice system should be fully transparent and accountable to the public.  

Ms. Geraghty joined SCHR in 2003. She focuses her work on litigating prison and jail conditions, the provision of indigent defense and other criminal-rights issues. She has been at the forefront of efforts to enhance accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system, including serving as lead counsel in Barksdale v. Allen, a 2009 “open-records” victory in the Alabama Supreme Court.  Most recently, Ms. Geraghty filed a brief in the same court on behalf of a 13-year-old middle school student in Mobile, Ala ., who was “tasered” by police outside his school without provocation or justification.

“The notion that prisons and jails should operate under a veil of secrecy is wrong, but that notion is entrenched in our criminal justice system,” Ms. Geraghty said. “Our work at the Southern Center for Human Rights is vital to ensuring that the rights of our most vulnerable citizens will be protected.”

About SCHR
The Southern Center for Human Rights, founded in Atlanta, Ga., in 1976, is a non-profit, public interest organization that provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails, seeks through litigation and advocacy to improve legal representation for poor people accused of crimes and advocates for criminal justice system reforms on behalf of those affected by the system in the southern United States.



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