The Georgia prison system has agreed to pay a $2.2 million wrongful-death settlement to the family of a transgender woman who died by suicide in a men’s prison after being taunted and encouraged by guards.
It’s one of the largest such settlements ever in the state, according to CNN, which first reported the news. It goes to the family of Jenna Mitchell, who died December 6, 2017, at Valdosta State Prison when she was just shy of age 25.
Mitchell was imprisoned at Valdosta for a 2015 robbery conviction and was serving a sentence of up to 10 years. Prison officials had placed her in solitary confinement at various times over several months. At the time of her death, she had been in solitary confinement for two weeks. She had been told she was “being moved to the compound for transgender inmates,” says a lawsuit her parents filed in 2019.
She had sent a letter to her parents “saying she was going to pull a ‘suicide stunt,’” NBC News reports. Her mother, Sheba Maree, called prison staff December 2 to warn them to keep an eye on Mitchell, who had suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and gender identity issues. Two days later, Mitchell hanged herself with bedsheets in her cell.
An inmate working as an orderly told the family’s lawyers that immediately before that, a corrections officer making rounds at the prison had responded to Mitchell’s suicide threat by saying,“OK, what are you waiting for, go for it.” The orderly had tried to get the officer and a sergeant to help Mitchell, but they walked away, even as she called out, “Don’t leave me,” according to the orderly’s statement, cited by CNN. There was a 10-minute delay in cutting her down.
The officer and the sergeant denied making any taunts and said they had to send another staffer to get the proper tool to cut her down. However, she went into a coma and died two days after the hanging.
“They killed my child; they did nothing to help my child,” Maree told CNN. Both Maree and lawyer David Shanies, who represented the family, said there was only the most superficial investigation into the prison staff’s actions. They called for a more thorough probe.
The U.S. Department of Justice has already started an investigation of conditions at Georgia prisons, which have been much criticized, and Shanies and the family urged the DOJ and state officials to hold the staff accountable.
“There is no question that they should,” Shanies said in a statement, according to NBC News. “Even a record-setting civil recovery cannot begin to repair the damage caused by this horrific event.”
“The financial settlement is barely nudging any kind of justice,” Maree told CNN. “I’d rather have my child ... nothing will ever, ever, ever, ever take the place of my child. To me, this is blood money, and I will not stop until the people involved with her death are held responsible.”
CNN sought comment from prison officials but has received no response yet.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. You can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 is available 24 hours a day to people of all ages and identities.