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The Student Media Site of Georgia College & State University

Bobcat Multimedia

The Student Media Site of Georgia College & State University

Bobcat Multimedia

The horrors of the G.A. DOC & prison system

BBC News / Youtube
Prisoners walking in a line

I do not envy the life of those who are incarcerated. Living out your days isolated from the rest of society in a barren and confined jail cell that is just large enough for a bed and a latrine seems wholly undesirable.

Inmates are interned  in order to correct their behavior so that they may one day return as a productive and orderly member of American society. The idea of prison can be better understood when examined as behavioral rehabilitation.

Rather than keeping an individual in a controlled environment so that they can avoid the drugs they use in a problematic manner, you isolate them from society so that they may reflect on the poor decisions they have made, which have caused their privilege to live freely to be revoked. Instead of keeping someone away from drugs so they no longer use them, you keep them away from society so they can learn how to behave correctly within it.

While this premise may seem logical on its surface, and incarceration has certainly kept dangerous or unruly citizens from harming society, that does not mean that the prison system is without flaw or that someone being an inmate makes it okay to deprive them of basic human decencies and services necessary to survive and flourish. 

The ineffectiveness of prisons, mistreatment of inmates and deprivation of basic health and safety of inmates is a sad reality seen in prison systems — not just in America but across the world throughout human history. There is nowhere it is more readily apparent than right here in Georgia. 

In Georgia, the prison system is overseen by the Georgia Department of Corrections, or DOC. The DOC’s mission statement, found on its website, seems well-intended.

“Our Mission: To protect Georgians by operating secure facilities and providing opportunities for offender rehabilitation,” the website said.

This includes oversight of a variety of aspects of state prisons, such as providing security at these facilities and inmates with adequate healthcare and opportunities to better themselves in the time they are interned through various rehabilitation programs.

However, the DOC is failing in a variety of ways to fulfill its mission. Georgia prisons are plagued with issues, including overcrowding, massive staff shortages, drug overdoses, unsuccessful rehabilitation, slayings, failing to provide adequate medical care to inmates and a culture of cruelty and violence among its staff.

A primary cause of the abysmal conditions seen in Georgia state prisons today is that the state prison system is jam-packed with inmates. According to annual statistics from the DOC, the Georgia prison population has skyrocketed from 16,401 inmates in 1985 to 47,832 in 2023. More than 43,000 inmates have been interned every year since 2000.

Efforts toward mass incarceration have far outpaced additional infrastructure needed to accommodate this large influx of prisoners. A WALB investigation found that in 2019, 18% of integral positions at the DOC were left vacant. These staff shortages, which are the result of the extremely low pay these already undesirable positions offer, threaten the security of these facilities and the ability to successfully control and provide for the inmates that reside within them. 

Nowhere is the compromised nature of the infrastructure in the Georgia prison system more clear than in the Fulton County Jail. The system is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in relation to instances of neglect, violence, abominable living conditions and inadequate facilities. 

This investigation was brought about by numerous horror stories from inmates and prison officials alike and serves as a manifestation of many problems in the prison facility that have been looming over it for many years. 

In a July 2023 AP article, “Justice Department to investigate jail conditions in Georgia’s most populous county,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who is heavily involved in the investigation in Fulton County, said that she was seriously disturbed by the situation.

“At one point in 2022, the jails averaged more than one stabbing per day,” Clarke said. 

Another incident in Fulton County which garnered attention from the national media was the death of inmate Lashawn Thompson, who was found dead, covered in insects and garbage, in his bed bug-infested cell. 

“Those circumstances were far from isolated,” Clarke said. “Following Mr. Thompson’s death, evidence emerged that the mental health unit where he died was infested with insects and that the majority of people living in that unit were malnourished and not receiving basic care.”

Another major failure of the DOC has been to provide effective preventive medical treatment for inmates, which has led many preventable deaths to occur. One instance of this was at Pulaski State Prison, which exclusively houses female inmates. 

The prison had eight female inmates die from cancer and other medical issues — all issues that, if caught early through the mandatory screening and health evaluations the prison should have been doing, could have been prevented. 

“I told them if they didn’t correct this stuff, they’d have a lot of girls who had cancer,” said Dr. Cheryl Young, an OB/GYN who served briefly as the women’s health specialist for the prison system. “I told them that, but they didn’t want to hear it because they didn’t want to spend the money.”

This clearly shows the deadly consequences of the inability and unwillingness to provide inmates the medical care they are entitled to while interned and represents a systematic failure in the prison system to provide adequate medical care to its inmates.

The DOC has also exhibited an inadequate control of illegal contraband entering its facility, which has resulted in many fatal drug overdoses. 

An AJC article by Danny Robbins and Carrie Teegardin found that between 2019 and 2022, at least 49 Georgia prisoners died from overdoses. The AJC also found 13 cases in which the DOC reported that prisoners died of natural causes, while medical examiners later determined that the deaths were caused by drug overdoses and ruled them accidental.

This exemplifies the DOC’s lack of ability to control what is getting into its facilities, which it is responsible for the security of.

When you also take into account the increasing rates of inmate suicide and recidivism and the 57 slayings that have occurred in the last year, you see a clear picture of a prison system that is both incapable and unwilling to provide inmates with the services they deserve and is indifferent to the well-being of those it interns.

Inmates and their families are not even given the decency of being notified of deaths in these facilities, as captured by the heartbreaking testimony of Jennifer Bradley, whose son Carrington Juwon Frye was murdered in Macon State Prison.

“Prison officials never picked up the phone to notify me of [my son’s] death,” Bradley said. “To date, I have never received any of his belongings.”

The Georgia prison system desperately needs to be fixed. These problems are outrageous and could easily be fixed, and deaths could be prevented. We as a society cannot allow inmates, who can be easily ignored, to suffer like this, and we need to hold our government to a much higher standard. 


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