Georgia Prisons Face Crisis of Inmate Violence: 32 Deaths in Four Years
(APN) ATLANTA — The Southern Center for Human Right (SCHR) and State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) held a legislative hearing, on Thursday, April 10, 2014, at the State Capitol, on the increase of violence and violent deaths in the Georgia prison system.
“Several years ago we noticed that we were receiving… ever-growing reports of trauma and violence in the Georgia prison system. Nearly every day we get letters and telephone calls from people who have been assaulted, beaten, and even raped in our State prisons,” Sara Geraghty, Senior Attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, testified at the hearing.
From 2010 to the present, at least 32 prisoners have been killed in Georgia prisons; also, prisoners killed one one correctional officer during the same period. To put it in perspective, in 2012 alone, Georgia had more homicides in its State prisons then many states had in the last ten years, according to statistics from SCHR.
In the last four years, there has been a significant escalation in the level of prisoner on prisoner homicides, stabbings, and assaults especially at Smith State Prison, Telfair State Prison, Valdosta State Prison, Hays State Prison, Augusta State Medical Prison, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GDCP), and others.
There were 22 homicides in these six Georgia prisons alone during the past four years. Smith leads with six homicides, Telfair had four killings in 2012, Valdosta and Hays had four homicides each, Augusta and GDCP had two homicides each. Smith had another homicide February 2014.
Baldwin, Coffee, Georgia State, Macon, Phillips Autry, Ware, and Wheeler each had one homicide during this four year period. Central had a homicide in March this year.
Ironically, in 2012 the Georgia Department of Corrections named Hays State Prison as Facility of the Year, despite two killings and reports of increased prisoner-on-prisoner assaults at Hays that year. Ironically in 2012, the State paid 93,000 dollars to settle a case brought by four prisoners who alleged that correctional personnel at Hays beat them while handcuffed until they were unconscious.
In 2010, Atlanta Progressive News reported on a prisoner strike that had been occurring at multiple prisons across the state.
The Law Office of SCHR has sent numerous letters to the Georgia Department of Corrections regarding violence at these prisons. To date, they have received no response.
Some of the problems SCHR lists in their letters to GDC are: gang leaders exercise control over housing assignments and were permitted to expel prisoners they no longer wanted in their dorms; cell door locks were broken and some for more than a year; prisoners were able to move undetected across the prison grounds to areas in which they were not authorized; officers are often absent from prisoner living areas, leaving dorms unsupervised; stabbings and beatings have been routine and many inmates are armed with knives and cell phones; requests to move prisoners who are in danger of assault have fallen on deaf ears.
At Hays, a maximum security facility, many of the cell door locks have not worked for years and prisoners can roam in and out of their cells at will with little or no supervision.
“These conditions are not safe for men who are incarcerated or for officers and prison staff. Correctional officers at Smith, Hays, and other prisons are being put in an impossible position. Many are short-staffed, overwhelmed, and without adequate resources to effectively supervise large numbers of inmates,” Geraghty testified.
“When we bring family members concerns to the attention of the Department of Corrections… when those family members say their loved ones are in danger and that action needs to be taken to move them to a safer place, then those concerns need to be heeded,” Geraghty said.
At the hearing, family members gave courageous testimony about the circumstances of the murder of their formerly incarcerated late family member. A few told how they warned the DOC that their loved ones were in danger and needed to be transferred to a safer place.
Glen Evans, 25, was killed at Telfair State Prison, August 21, 2012. He was stabbed in the heart with a knife the same day he was transferred from Wheeler, a correctional facility, to Telfair.
“We called the DOC and the Warden a week before his death. We begged and gave names of people who could be a danger to our son [at Telfair]. We were told he would not be going to Telfair,” Exie Evans, mother of Glen Evans, testified. GDC officials did not listen to the family’s warning.
“It is easier to get weapons and drugs [in prison] than it is to get a GED [General Education Development],” Mrs. Evans said.
Pipp Hall-Jackson, 19, was stabbed to death on February 5, 2013 as soon as he exited the bus from Hays to GDCP by a fellow Hays prisoner. He was the fourth Hays prisoner to be killed in a seven week period. He was in the state system only three months.
“He wrote us a letter and said he was beaten by some guards [at Hays a few weeks before his death] and they would not let him go to the law library. He told us he was not going to make it in there [Hays]; everybody was dying in there. He feared for his life,” Yolanda Jackson, Hall-Jackson’s mother, testified.
“The inmates have put together a hit list. A lot if inmates try to get in the hole [solitary confinement] to be safe,” Jackson said.
Jeffrey Lee McDonald, 42, was beaten at Central State Prison on March 14, and lived on life support for two week until he died March 28, 2014.
“He was beat to death over 26 dollars. I am asking the DOC for some justice and better security. I was told there were no witnesses and no cameras in the bathroom. I don’t know why he was not protected better in Central State Prison because he was a mental patient. I don’t know why he was transferred he was only there three weeks before he was murdered. I was notified three days after the attack. He was depressed and not one to fight,” John McDonald, father of Jeffrey Lee McDonald, testified.
Damion MacClain, 27, was murdered at Hays on December 26, 2012. Damion was beaten and strangled to death by other inmates. He was the second of three men murdered at Hays in a five-week period.
“My nephew was murdered by four inmates who were able to slip out of their cells and into his cell after lockdown hours. Only one inmate was charged in his death. They beat him and strangled him to death and put him back in his bed like he was asleep,” Lysander Turner, Damion MacClain’s uncle, testified.
“When cell locks are broken and inmates are allowed to roam around… that is unacceptable… that can be stopped. It should not take three or four inmates [deaths]… to correct cell door locks. From what I read in the paper, the cell doors were corrected at a cost of 1.7 million, after the death of my nephew and several other inmates… totally unacceptable,” Turner said.
Damion spoke to his grandmother the day he died and told her, “I’m not going to make it out of here alive. I’m tired of watching my back and tired of fighting.” He had been in prison eight years and knew how to survive.
Prison audits from 2008 to 2012 reported that the facility’s cell door locks could be easily opened, leaving prisoners to roam in and out of their cells at will.
Detravia Bryant, 29, died at Ware State Prison on April 30, 2013. The family was told he committed suicide. The funeral home called the family, however, and requested they come and take pictures of the body because it did not look like a suicide. His body was severely beaten.
“We are looking for answers, reasons, justice, and why would Warden Toole tell us he committed suicide? We have a Death Certificate that speaks of blunt force trauma,” James Jackson, Detravia Bryant’s uncle, testified.
“We paid for a second autopsy and we have not yet received either [the State or family commissioned] autopsy report after one year. They both [autopsies] were done at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) lab. We’ve been told we can’t receive any information from them until the investigation is over. We fear that by the time they release any information it will be too late to do anything about this case,” Jackson said.
“My nephew was a mental patient and he was on medications. He was transferred from one prison, who was better equipped to handle mental patients, to Ware. He was there less than thirty days when he was murdered. We have documents from officers there [Ware], who were on duty at the time, who have written statements saying that his body was beaten and he was found on the floor and not hanging.
“Too many people have died needless deaths in the DOC in Georgia. One person has died and then the next, without the State making meaningful changes to keep people safe in custody. The message communicated is that these are lives that we value less than other lives, and that is very wrong, totally inappropriate, and unacceptable,” Geraghty said.
“The people who are supposed to be running our prisons have apparently lost control over them,” Sen. Fort said.
Some of the recommendations that SCHR suggested in their communications to GDC are to hire an outside, impartial prison security expert to evaluate the escalating level of violence in the Georgia system, identify causes, and propose and implement solutions; adequate security staffing at prisons; investigate all reports of excessive force on prisoners; communicate with the public.