By David Reutter
A series of investigative news reports by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Joy Lukachick, published from February to December 2013, revealed numerous problems in Georgia’s prison system – particularly at Hays State Prison (HSP), located around 40 miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee – and resulted in lawsuits, security improvements and the replacement of HSP’s warden.
While violence has increased in Georgia prisons over the last several years, it was not until four HSP prisoners were murdered within a two-month period that the media began to take notice. Prison officials blamed gangs and contraband cell phones for the spike in violence, but guards faulted their bosses, saying they were more focused on their careers than security.
Since 2010, at least 26 Georgia state prisoners have been slain by other prisoners; four HSP prisoners were killed from December 19, 2012 to February 5, 2013 alone.
Non-fatal assaults on staff and prisoners have been increasing, too. The Georgia State Prison has the highest number of incidents, with 251 prisoner-on-staff assaults in 2012 – an average of 21 per month. Guards have reciprocated the violence, reporting 265 uses of force on prisoners over the same time period. The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GDCP) – the state’s highest security facility – reported 86 prisoner-on-staff assaults in 2012, the second-highest in the state.
There were signs of trouble in Georgia’s prison system before the spate of murders at HSP. At Telfair State Prison, two prisoners were killed between August and October 2012, while six prisoners were murdered over two years of escalating violence at Smith State Prison. Further, two guards were stabbed by HSP prisoner Brian Dukes in February 2012, and guard Larry Stell, 46, was murdered in a dormitory area at Telfair on October 11, 2012.