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Prisoner Unrest in Georgia

By A Georgia Reader

On Sunday, June 19, 1994, prisoners at Hancock Correctional Institution in Sparta, Georgia revolted in one of the worst prison riots in Georgia history. Damages were estimated at over one million dollars. Establishment media reports erroneously blamed the disturbance on "faulty showers". In fact, captors at Hancock had forced prisoners at the 900 bed facility to go without running water for more than two days prior to the incident. Prison administrators offered no official explanation for the water cutoff, nor was there any attempt made to calm prisoner unrest during the weekend-long water shortage.<%0>

Problems began on Friday afternoon when water service to the prison's dormitories was turned off and prisoner sinks, toilets, showers and drinking fountains ceased to operate. Interestingly enough, water flow continued without interruption to utility rooms adjacent to each dorm and to the prison's kitchen. On Saturday afternoon water was delivered to the dorms by the prison fire truck, one bucket per room, for flushing toilets. Occasional deliveries of ice and drinking water were made to dorms through Sunday morning. The deliveries then ceased. Early Sunday evening ice chests containing dirty, foul-smelling water were delivered to the dorms for drinking. Immediately afterward, guards began emergency lockdown of Hancock's population. Prisoners resisted, the guards fled, and the uprising spread.

The Hancock disturbance raged for over four hours. Prisoners held the prison until after midnight Sunday, with three guards requiring hospitalization. Fires were set at various locations, including laundry hampers, yards and the gymnasium. The prison store and fast food training center, were destroyed, as were all dorm televisions, VCR's and control consoles. The water supply was miraculously restored just minutes before riot squad personnel entered prisoner areas and regained control.

Hancock officials deny any responsibility for the unrest leading to the June revolt, despite their failure to communicate the reason behind the water shutoff. Counselors blamed a lightening strike at the prison water tower, although local radio broadcasts reported a countywide water outage. Whatever the actual cause, Hancock's water tower had capacity to furnish water to the prison via gravity feed for an extended period of time.

The Hancock uprising was Georgia's third major prison incident in less than a month A prisoner work strike at Rivers Correctional lnstitution in Milledgeville resulted in the transfer of 250 prisoners to other institutions in early June. A subsequent disturbance at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville caused the hospitalization of two maximum security guards and the lockdown of the entire prison. Hancock's programs were suspended, and the lockdown is expected to be lifted gradually over a period of time.

It should be noted that a tense atmosphere has existed in Georgia's prisons for several months. Governor Zell Miller recently joined the `get tough on crime' bandwagon, making the prison system a whipping boy for his re-election bid this year. Miller successfully introduced a crime bill in Georgia's 1994 legislative session, mandating 10 year no-parole sentences for first convictions of "violent crime", including most sex offenses. Under Miller's plan, second convictions would be punishable by mandatory life without parole ( a "two-strikes" law!). The Miller crime bill was signed in April and awaits a November referendum to become law. In the meantime, anybody with even one prior felony conviction may want to drive around Georgia when traveling. For many, Georgia's tourism slogan, "Stay and See Georgia" could become a chilly reality.

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