ATLANTA– Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a report entitled, The Crisis of Violence in Georgia's Prisons about the recent, significant rise in violence, torture, and homicides in the Georgia prison system. SCHR is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, and is calling on state officials to reduce violence, and better protect incarcerated persons and prison staff.
The last several years have seen an escalation in the level of homicides, stabbings, and assaults in the Georgia prison system. On June 29, 2014, Shannon Grier was stabbed to death at Augusta State Medical Prison. He became the 33rd Georgia prisoner to be killed by other prisoners since 2010. In 2012 alone, Georgia had more homicides in its state prisons than many states’ prisons had in the last ten years, from 2001-2011 (e.g. Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi). Three times as many prisoners were killed in Georgia state prisons in 2012 than ten years ago.
The violence in Georgia prisons has grown increasingly brutal in recent months. For example:
• In January 2014, a prisoner was airlifted from Coffee Correctional Facility to a hospital burn center with third degree burns, after he was bound with tape, beaten, had bleach poured into his eyes, and boiling water poured onto his face and genitals.
• In February 2014, Ariel Ocasio had three fingers severed by a man wielding a 19-inch knife at Wilcox State Prison.
• In March 2014, Jeffrey McDonald was beaten unconscious at Central State Prison; he later died of his injuries.
• Cristian Bailon recently became the seventh person murdered at Smith State Prison since 2010.
SCHR’s report describes a prison system in which state prison officials have lost control. Men in maximum security facilities have access to huge numbers of lethal weapons including knives, shanks and machetes. Cell door locks are left broken for years. Prisoners at some close security prisons are left largely unsupervised. Gangs control inmate housing assignments and expel inmates they no longer want in their dorms. Prisoners have cell phones and smart phones. And protective custody procedures are inadequate, leaving vulnerable prisoners to fend for themselves.
The conditions described in this report threaten prison staff, in addition to prisoners. At many state prisons, correctional officers are short-staffed, overwhelmed, and without adequate resources to effectively supervise large numbers of prisoners, many of whom are armed with weapons and cell phones. A number of correctional officers have been injured, and one officer was tragically killed in October 2012.
“State corrections officials have been unable or unwilling to address the epidemic of violence in Georgia prisons,” said SCHR senior attorney, Sarah Geraghty. “You simply don’t see this level of violence and brutality in a well-run system.”
Federal law authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, recommend reforms, and even file a legal action when prison conditions violate the constitutional rights of state prisoners. SCHR calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the conditions described in SCHR’s report.
To read the report in full, click here
To read SCHR's 2012 Letter of Concern to the GDC, click here
To read SCHR's 2013 Letter of Concern to the GDC, click here
To read SCHR's 2014 Letter of Concern to the GDC, click here
For an Infographic on Georgia's Prison System, click here