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‘Tragic and Wholly Unacceptable’ Gang Violence Erupts at Georgia Women’s Prison

by Jenifer Lockwood

On June 23, 2022, gang violence at Georgia’s second-largest women’s lockup sparked a sharply worded letter from U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D) calling on FBI Director Chris Wray to get involved and stop the “tragic and wholly unacceptable” prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.

Reports of gang activity at Pulaski State Prison, particularly among members of the “Bloods” gang, increased with an influx of new prisoners at the end of 2021 from Lee Arrendale State Prison, which is the state’s largest women’s lockup. The violence is blamed on a shortage of guards throughout the state Department of Corrections (DOC), though the Pulaski facility currently has more guard openings than any other prison in Georgia.

Women make up about 7% of DOC’s prison population, and Pulaski houses 1,200 of them. The attacks there initially seemed racially motivated, aimed primarily at Latina prisoners. But prisoners of all races have now reported being victimized. Two said they were sodomized at knife point by gang members demanding “protection money” for their safety.

Ellijay resident Pamela Dixon said more than $10,000 was extorted from her for protection for her daughter, Mary Elizabeth Lewis. Dixon managed to record one call placed from Pulaski on May 30, 2022, when the caller threatened to disfigure Lewis’ face if Dixon failed to pay $300 via Cash App before 8:00 p.m. that night. After Dixon sent the money, she forwarded the recording to a DOC administrator. That got Lewis put in protective custody. However, Dixon never heard what happened to the prisoner who placed the threatening call.

DOC said it opened 20 investigations over the last year into alleged gang assault and extortion activity at Pulaski. The prison is also one of 15 DOC lockups that are the subject of a federal investigation opened by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2021. [See: PLN, Sep. 2022, p.1.]

One of the alleged attackers was named by a victim: Charquita Cooper, 31, a prisoner with a lengthy criminal record. The victim, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Cooper beat her and threw urine on her after learning from the victim that her cellmate was not available to give Cooper a haircut. Along with another prisoner, Jamie Tia Edwards, Cooper then allegedly came into the victim’s cell and beat her with a padlock.

Nine days later, Cooper allegedly bit prisoner Regina McClary, who lost the upper portion of one ear. After an investigation into both incidents, prison officials transferred Cooper to Lee Arrendale State Prison and charged her with battery causing “substantial physical harm or visible bodily harm.”

Former prisoner Norma Juarez-Morales said she was raped in January 2022, before her release from Pulaski. “I’m marked for life,” she said. She also said she still suffers nightmares and a fear of going out at night.

Unconfirmed reports have DOC opening a new women’s prison at McRae Correctional Facility. The state has bought that prison from Nashville-based private prison operator CoreCivic for $130 million, after the federal Bureau of Prisons pulled out on November 30, 2022. 

Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WMAZ

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