Or at least until, if many reports from guards on the scene commenting anonymously on this newspaper’s web site as well as others, the place has locks that work. Surely, crowded or not, the state’s prison system holding 53,000 inmates (some 1,460 of them at Hays in Trion) has enough cells with working locks to improve “living conditions” sufficiently to just keep the prisoners alive until they can be properly kept where they belong.
Four killings of Hays inmates in two months by other inmates is more than enough to call for more drastic action than appointing a “new” warden who has been there before and had plenty of messy problems with a population out of his control even then. (Rick Jacobs, a Rome native who has become a corrections system troubleshooter, was warden at Hays during the inmate strike there — the nation’s first ever — against poor living conditions.)
Such a suggestion is made reluctantly with full awareness that Hays is one of the few “major industries” and large employers in Chattooga County, employing some 350 staff. Just furlough most of the present staff, at full pay, at least until the locks are fixed and the entire operational system overhauled. This situation is not their fault, after all. And how long would it take in an empty prison to upgrade lockup security to the minimum expected ... a month? Two?
Besides the population not of the “hard case” variety, many of trustee status and out-and-about routinely providing such public services as rural fire protection, need not be relocated. Moreover, keeping inmates making an effort to reform or otherwise serve their time wisely as well as the staff alive should be the greatest concern. It appears only a matter of time before they cross harm’s way ... indeed two guards were stabbed by inmates even during the two months where this outburst of mayhem has entered the news.
IT IS ALSO a question of keeping yet another huge black eye regarding Georgia from achieving national scandal dimensions and possible federal intervention. This situation must be teetering on the brink of this already. The Southern Center for Human Rights has already called for “outside experts” to be called to the scene, reporting that family members of prisoners at Hays have reported that, besides the broken cell doors that allow inmates to roam free day and night in the supposedly maximum-security facility, there are routine stabbings and beatings, a protection racket going on and gangs are in control of the cellblocks, not the guards. (Who, by the way, are unarmed and understaffed.)
One shudders to think what the cost would be to state taxpayers if the U.S. Justice Department orders a massive overhaul of the entire shooting match as it did with the state’s mental hospitals.
Were this some new flareup of trouble that would be one thing, but this is quite another. Hays has a “track record” of problems — not only killings but also escapes, strikes and provocative actions by prison personnel (such as beat-downs of inmates by “flying squads” of corrections personnel that led to lawsuits which the inmates won and received monetary damages for).
There have even been anonymous allegations, by those representing themselves as on the staff, of prison officials warning inmates of a big shakedown coming by outside state personnel (as is done from time to time) and to hide their illegal weapons, drugs and cellphones in return for, if the prison passed inspection, being rewarded with pizza and fried chicken brought in from the outside. That should be taken at rumor/rumor value, of course, but there are literally dozens of similar comments scattered across various web sites.
There is an awful lot of smoke for there not to be any fires ... and such attempts at coverups actually have a long tradition at Hays, some of them brought out in testimony during federal court cases.
THE PLACE has appeared to be out of control or barely in control of prison staff for many, many years now. If this is the state’s “facility of the year,” as recently so-named by the Corrections Department, what the heck are the rest of them like?
It has long been far too easy for prison authorities to duck, bob and weave when such tales are told. Not only are they rulers of all they and only they are permitted to survey, but there is a reason why most state prisons are found in very isolated areas. And no, it has little to do with prisoners having to run a long way before they can get away from pursuing bloodhounds if they manage to scale a wall.
It has everything to do with, as in Chattooga, residents being happy to have a source of any jobs, no matter how dangerous, and any income thus increasing a tendency to turn a blind eye to what the hand that feeds them does ... even when it is balled up into a fist. Additionally, there are also very few snoopy busybodies — such as members of the media — to be found anywhere nearby.
The corrections personnel also have become very good at dodging any questions that do arise — they probably are given classroom training on avoiding relations with the public.
For example, in the most recent killing (of a Hays inmate apparently by another Hays inmate while being transferred to Jackson State Prison for evaluation of mental conditions ... Hays has a lot of prisoners with antisocial personalities) the Chattanooga paper reported all the following factual deflections occurring:
“John Bankhead, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman, declined to say how the inmate died until an autopsy is complete. ...
“Corrections department officials said they were too busy fixing the security problems at Hays to talk with a reporter and declined a request to interview Commissioner Brian Owens about the increased violence at Georgia prisons (saying in an email) ‘Due to our focused efforts, we do not have the resources to set up an interview.’ ...
“Gov. Deal’s office didn’t respond to questions about whether the governor is looking into the increased violence. His office referred all questions to the Department of Corrections.”
GET THE DRIFT? That is not unusual ... that is the norm for pretty much anything having to do with anything unpleasant regarding “corrections.” The same process would be used if one asked how many state prisoners were vegetarians made to eat anything the state wanted to put in front of them.
Frankly, corrections needs a whole lot of correction on how it tells the taxpayers footing the bill about what is going on.
And Hays needs a locksmith permanently on staff as well as somebody brought in from way, way outside Georgia who has successfully run prisons where inmates are not being killed at the rate of one every two weeks.
It also needs for the governor to shut down this “Big House,” as prisons are known in American slang, at least until there is some assurance that it will cease to be a slaughter house.