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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.
Maj. Michael Gruver is all too familiar with the desperate howls and chilling sounds of clinking on steel bars as he makes his routine strolls down the halls of solitary confinement. Gruver, a correctional employee of the William P. Clements unit in the state of Texas oversees some of the men housed in isolation. Gruver admits working with a large mental health population can be grueling. There are a lot of mentally ill inmates at the Clements Unit.
Clements officers are qualified to deal with mentally ill inmates after completing a mere two and a half weeks of training. The main objective of the training is for equipping correctional officers to protect mentally ill inmates from harming themselves and others.
The Texas Tribune, a non-profit news organization has produced evidence from an extensive investigation of 99 Texas prisons that Texas prisons with high occurrences of violent behavior are linked to mental illness.
The research conducted for the six-year period of 2006-2012 indicates the prisons that reported the most significant numbers of violent related episodes within the walls of their facilities have significantly larger mentally ill populations.
These troubling statistics worry Michele Deitch, prison expert at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Deitch is questioning the competency of correctional administration to effectively address mentally ill inmates and maintain security.
Deitch claims the situation is too dire to overlook.
According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data, out of the five facilities with the highest concentration of violence-related reports, three of them are psychiatric units. The William P. Clements Unit which houses 1,800 mentally ill inmates out of an inmate population of 3,500 is one of the five facilities in the category of high-violence. The prison not only houses mentally ill inmates but it also has a wing dedicated to G-5 offenders, those considered the most dangerous. The prison has 448 cells for isolation; as of September 21, 2013, 435 of them were occupied.