Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘georgia

Georgia Prison Guards Settle Lawsuit over Alleged Beatings for $93,000

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Georgia prison guards accused of beating four inmates have agreed to pay $93,000 to settle a federal lawsuit over the allegations. The Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports:

“We think this recognizes that there is a problem with excessive force at Hays State Prison,” said Atteeyah Hollie, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The Atlanta-based human rights group filed the civil lawsuit in July in federal court in Rome, Ga., on behalf of four inmates. The inmates claim they were beaten when officers responded to a fight in a nearby prison cell in August 2010.


Georgia Department of Corrections officials said they were reviewing questions from the Times Free Press about the suit, but didn’t have a response by Friday afternoon.

This is the second time the human rights group has sued the maximum security prison in Trion, Ga., alleging excessive force. A suit was settled in 1997 on behalf of 14 men who claimed they were beaten without reason.

More on the settlement here, from the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.

SCHR Files Lawsuit over Beatings of Handcuffed Prisoners in Georgia Prison

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The Southern Center for Human Rights has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of four men who allege they were beaten by prison guards at Georgia’s Hays State Prison while handcuffed. You can download the full complaint here (PDF). Here, quoted from the complaint, are the plaintiffs’ core allegations:

3. While handcuffed, Plaintiff Nwakanma was punched, stomped on, kicked in the groin and in the face, struck with a flashlight, hit with batons, and beaten until he was unconscious. While handcuffed, Plaintiff Spencer was punched, kicked, and beaten with a baton-like instrument until he vomited and lost consciousness. While Plaintiff Towns was handcuffed, officers kicked him in the head, beat him with a baton on his bare feet, and struck him with a baton in the head until he was unconscious. While handcuffed, Plaintiff Haines was punched, kneed in the face, and kicked in the face. At no time did any Plaintiff offer any resistance or do or fail to do any act that justified the use of force.

4. As a result of these assaults, the Plaintiffs suffered injuries including: a “possible healing left mandibular fracture” (Plaintiff Nwakanma), jaw pain and fractured teeth (Plaintiff Nwakanma), a facial injury requiring oral surgery to remove tooth fragments from the lip (Plaintiff Nwakanma), loss of consciousness (Plaintiffs Nwakanma, Spencer, and Towns), fractured toes (Plaintiffs Nwakanma and Spencer), contusions on the feet impairing the ability to walk unaided (Plaintiff Towns), a baseball-sized hematoma to the head (Plaintiff Spencer), a lacerated mouth (Plaintiff Haines), and possible neurological damage including memory loss, fatigue, and inability to concentrate (Plaintiffs Nwakanma and Towns).

5. Despite these injuries and additional injuries suffered by the Plaintiffs, the officers who participated in these assaults did not file any incident reports indicating that they had used force on any inmates assaulted in the SMU. No Plaintiffs were disciplined for acts occurring in the SMU on August 12, 2010 that would have necessitated the use of force.

Drug Courts: Reasons to Be Skeptical

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Reason #1:

  • This American Life reports on a Georgia drug court gone really awry. Like, batshit-crazy awry.

OK, you say, but that’s Georgia. I, a native Georgian, say, OK, you may have a point. What about drug courts that are running as intended? Well… it turns out there’s still reason for concern. To wit:

Reasons #2-4:

  • Drug Policy Alliance issues a new report concluding that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not save money, and do not improve public safety. Says DPA’s Daniel Abrahamson: “Drug courts have actually helped to increase, not decrease, the criminal justice entanglement of people who struggle with drugs.”
  • The Justice Policy Institute issues a similar report (PDF) concluding that drug courts are neither the most effective nor the most cost-effective treatment options, and serve merely to widen the net of the criminal justice system. (The report also discusses the proliferation of other specialty courts modeled upon drug courts, like veterans courts and mental health courts.) (h/t: Doug Berman)
  • And that was just in the past week! See also this 2009 statement from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, on how drug courts endanger defendants’ constitutional rightsRead the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

March 29, 2011 at 7:08 am

Georgia Prison Guards to Face Criminal Charges for Alleged Assault of an Inmate

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Reuters has the report:

Seven Georgia prison guards were arrested on criminal charges stemming from an alleged assault of an inmate during a prison strike in December, officials said.

The seven guards at Macon State Prison are charged with aggravated battery and violation of their oath of office, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections statement released on Monday.

I’ve often made some version of the point that all prison systems are unhappy in their own way. In the Deep South, prisons are overcrowded and permeated with a culture of violence and abuse. The Southern Center for Human Rights is a good starting point to learn more.

Written by sara

February 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

Georgia’s Governor: Breaking New Ground in Law-and-Order Demagoguery

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So, it used to be that politicians would pair “build more!” talk on prisons with “be very afraid” talk about “criminals.” That combination could be called the “lock ‘em up” mode of “tough-on-crime” politics. The new governor of my home state has apparently hit on a new formula. From his inaugural speech:

Presently, one out of every 13 Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control. It cost about $3 million per day to operate our Department of Corrections. And yet, every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of perpetrators are juveniles.

College students should be concerned about their grades not whether they are going to be mugged on their way home from class. Visitors to our cities should be treated as welcomed guests and protected. Families should not live in fear of gang violence and drive-by shootings. But most of all, our dedicated law enforcement officers must not be targets for criminals. Anyone who harms one of them harms us all, for they embody the Constitutional mandate that government provide us with protection and security.

Breaking the culture of crime and violence is not a task for law enforcement officials alone. Parents must assume more responsibility for their children. Communities must marshal their collective wills; civic and religious organizations must use their influence to set the tone for expected behavior.

For violent and repeat offenders, we will make you pay for your crimes. For other offenders who want to change their lives, we will provide the opportunity to do so with Day Reporting Centers, Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and expanded probation and treatment options. As a State, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions. It is draining our State Treasury and depleting our workforce.

So, I’m guess I’m glad Deal is using his mini-bully pulpit to point out that the War on Crime costs a lot of money and doesn’t necessarily deliver commensurate benefits. And in a backhanded way, his mini-sermon about “the culture of crime and violence” at least acknowledges that just passing laws and arresting people doesn’t magically make everyone stop doing things you don’t want them to do.

That said, this is not, by any measure, a model of how elected officials should introduce mass incarceration onto the policy agenda. Deal is still trafficking in the same cartoon of The Criminal that we’ve been hearing about from politicians for basically as long as I’ve been alive, he’s just refining it slightly to exclude “offenders who want to change their lives.” Read the rest of this entry »

Prison Labor and the Thirteenth Amendment

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An issue raised by the Georgia prison strike is whether and how much prisoners should be paid for their labor. Here’s the first bullet point from the strikers’ list of demands (which I reproduced here):

· A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

As this is ostensibly a legal blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it does not, in fact, violate the Thirteenth Amendment to require prisoners to work for free. (That, of course, is an entirely separate issue from whether prisoners should be paid as a policy matter, or whether particular prisoners may have constitutionally cognizable challenges to particular work assignments — I’m speaking here at a broad level of generality.) And I’d rather risk pedantic than remiss, so here’s the text of the Thirteenth Amendment, passed and ratified in 1865, with the relevant language bolded:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This is why states that do pay prisoners can legally pay them well under the minimum wage. From the Prison Policy Initiative, here’s a breakdown of prison hourly wages, ranging from $0 in Georgia and Texas, to 13 cents in Nevada prison camps, to $1.15 in some federal prison industries jobs.

Prisoners also face basically insurmountable barriers to forming unions. As summarized by the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook:

Prison officials are permitted to ban petitions, like those asking for improvements in prison conditions, as long as prisoners have other ways to voice their complaints. Duamutef v. O’Keefe, 98 F.3d 22 (2d Cir. 1996). Officials can ban a prisoner from forming an association or union of inmates, because it is reasonable to conclude that such organizing activity would involve threats to prison security. Brooks v. Wainwright, 439 F. Supp. 1335 (M.D. Fl. 1977). In one very important case, the Supreme Court upheld the prison’s ban on union meetings, solicitation of other prisoners to join the union, and bulk mailings from the union to prisoners, as long as there were other ways for prisoners to communicate complaints to prison officials and for the union to communicate with prisoners. Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119 (1977).

Given all of these legal barriers, not to mention the practical barriers of prison life, it’s all the more remarkable that Georgia prisoners were able to organize and carry out a collective protest of any kind, much less one that lasted almost a week (well, depending on who you ask, the prisoners or the guards) and that attracted national media attention. Hopefully, their demands will draw attention to prison conditions not just in Georgia but around the country.

For those interested in the history of the Thirteenth Amendment, I’ve posted some notes and recommended reading after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Interview with Georgia Prison Strikers

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published this article based on phone interviews with Georgia prisoners. Here are some highlights:

According to the prisoners and their advocates, inmates are refusing to report to their work assignments that usually involve cleaning or maintaining the prison or nearby government buildings.

Department of Corrections officials dispute the inmates’ version. They say, as a precaution, wardens at four of its 30 prisons — Hays State Prison in Trion; Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe; Telfair State Prison in Helena and Smith State Prison, about an hour’s drive west of Savannah — decided to lock down their institutions before the protest started, and the situation had not changed.

“That’s wrong. We’ve locked ourselves down,” said Mike.

Cell phones — Mike said he bought his from a guard — were key in organizing the protest and for sharing information once it began, especially with text messaging. …

“The tactic squad spent the nite at the prison last nite, n they stayn tnite, too. Pass the word and stay on ur toes,” was a text message sent Tuesday.

One sent Monday read, “Glad yall str8. Stay down. Evry1 needs 2 file grievances. We not getting 2500 calories wit these sandwiches, we sposed 2 get 2 hot meals, and da laundry. Da resolution iz lawsuit! Evry1 do it!”

UPDATE: The AJC is now reporting that the strike (and/or lockdown), which lasted almost a week, has ended:

Prison officials did not say what led to the decision to end the lock downs that had been in place since last Thursday. But an inmate at Smith State Prison in Glenville said in a telephone interview prisoners had agreed to end their “non-violent” protest to allow administrators time to focus on their concerns rather than operating the institutions without inmate labor.

“We’ve ended the protest,” said Mike, a convicted armed robber who was one of the inmates who planned and coordinated the work stoppage. “We needed to come off lock down so we can go to the law library and start … the paperwork for a [prison conditions] lawsuit.” …

Inmates began planning the protest in early September when tobacco was banned throughout the prison system. The inmates said they picked Dec. 9 as the day to start because it allowed time for the word to spread throughout the system and because the temperature in the cellblocks would be cooler by then, which is important when otherwise violent men are trying to keep their tempers in check.

h/t: Colorlines

Written by sara

December 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Updates on the Georgia Prison Strike

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The Georgia prison strike appears to remain ongoing, with my old hometown paper the Atlanta Journal-Constitution now picking up the story (though not actually using the word “strike”). Here’s coverage from the Chattanooga Free Press, with this response from a Georgia state legislator:

“If they want to get paid, they shouldn’t commit crimes,” said state Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, chairman of the Senate Institutions and Property Committee, which oversees prisons.

Besides, he said, “If we started paying inmates, we’d also start charging them for room and board, as well. They ought to be careful what they ask for.”

The Free Press article notes that while Georgia does not pay anything for inmate labor, its neighboring state of Tennessee pays between 17 cents and 54 cents an hour. If you want to write to Sen. Grant about his implication that it doesn’t matter how prisoners are treated since they’ve committed crimes, here’s his contact info. Finally, here’s this morning’s Democracy Now! interview with Elaine Brown (which I haven’t had a chance to listen to myself, but pass along in case you’re interested).

Written by sara

December 14, 2010 at 9:49 am

Georgia Prisoners Strike for Better Conditions

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The Black Agenda Report, a Georgia-based news site “from the black left,” reported on Saturday that inmates were on Day 2 of a strike (mirrored here at Open Left):

Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

Although there were some reports of a “media blackout,” the New York Times did report on the strike, here (online only) and here (online and page A13 of yesterday’s newspaper) (and picked up by Slate here), emphasizing the use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the strike. However, most local news outlets reported, via the Georgia Department of Corrections, that the prisoners were not on strike, but rather had been placed on lockdown to pre-empt the strike. Examples of local Georgia coverage portraying the weekend’s events as a lockdown are here at the Rome News-Tribune, here from the AP, here from Atlanta’s WSB-TV, and here from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

With about 52,000 inmates, Georgia’s prison system is not among the largest in the country in absolute numbers. But relative to the state’s population, it has an outsize reach. In Georgia, 1 in 13 adults is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole — the highest rate of correctional control in the country. (Nationwide that figure is 1 in 31.) According to the Sentencing Project, over 4% of Georgia adults and almost 10% of African-Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights has been a leading advocate for prisoners in Georgia and its neighboring states.

A few more links and the prisoners’ complete list of demands after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

December 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

Interview with a Prisoners’ Rights Attorney

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StoryCorps Atlanta has an interview between two staff members at the Southern Center for Human Rights: staff attorney Melanie Velez, who has worked on prison overcrowding and abuse cases in Georgia and Alabama, and social worker Vivianne Guevara. It’s only about 3 minutes — worth a quick listen!

Written by sara

September 29, 2010 at 8:12 am

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