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428 Georgia Prison Employees Criminally Charged in Five Years

On February 28, 2024, prisoner advocates held a press conference outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, demanding that state lawmakers address twin afflictions in the state’s beleaguered Department of Corrections (DOC), whose 51,000 prisoners now represent its highest population in 15 years, even as the number of prison guards has plunged to its lowest point in 24 years.

Fueling the outcry was a report by the Atlanta Journal-­Constitution in September 2023 that 428 DOC employees had been arrested for alleged criminal behavior just since 2018—an average over seven each month. Of those arrests, 80% involved contraband smuggling, and 80% of those arrested were women under 30. Half had experienced financial difficulties with prior evictions or civil debt judgements.

The numbers reflect DOC’s struggles to recruit employees, often hiring young women with no law enforcement experience. On top of that, DOC prison guards are paid less than those in many other states. Neighboring Alabama, where low salaries and deplorable conditions have persisted for decades, now pays its guards significantly more.

The consequence of all this smuggling is a flow of contraband that fuels violence even as it enables some prisoners to continue illegal activity behind bars. Some low-­level offenders also pick up training in higher-­level criminal enterprise.

DOC won’t blame its own for the problem, pointing to the occasional smuggling bust of non-­employees. But evidence betrays a system where prisoners rule, not guards, and corruption dates back for years: In 2016, following a two-­year investigation of “unprecedented” scope, the Washington Post reported that 46 DOC guards had been found involved in smuggling.

Whether lured by financial desperation or recruited by gangs or even swept up in a romantic relationship with a prisoner, guards are fueling the flow of illegal goods: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, cellphones and weapons. Some of the more unusual delivery methods have included multi colored highlighter pens; reassembled Hot Pockets microwave snacks; packages of grits from Huddle House; noodle soup containers; electrical tape strapped to the groin or crotch; and even a menstrual pad. Guards have been caught looking the other way while prisoners smuggled contraband on a bus transporting them to work detail; in a van headed to medical appointments; in employee and state-­owned vehicles; and in clandestine drone drops or packages tossed over a fence onto prison property.

A scandal rocked Smith State Prison in 2023, when former Warden Brian Adams was charged with bribery, making false statements, and violating his oath as a public officer, as well as violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. As PLN reported, investigators uncovered a sprawling contraband smuggling scheme carried out by the “Yves Saint Laurent Squad,” led by prisoner Nathan Weekes, which paid prison employees bribes via Cash App, Western Union and cryptocurrency for contraband including marijuana and meth, as well as weapons and luxury items. [See: PLN, July 2023, p.11.]

Other high-­ranking employees convicted in contraband schemes include Hays State Prison guard Lt. Lakeshia Thomas and Baldwin State Prison guard Lt. Tracey Wise. For smuggling drugs and synthetic marijuana, Thomas is now serving a 15-­year sentence. Wise is on five years of probation as a first-­time offender.

The rampant corruption poses a serious challenge to DOC’s mission, prompting criticism even from prosecutors, who have joined a call for urgently need reforms, including more thorough background checks of employee applicants’ financial and credit history to identify risky candidates; increased wages and benefits to attract more qualified individuals and reduce financial desperation; improved training and support to reduce vulnerability; and a zero-­tolerance policy with swift prosecution to deter corruption.  


Sources: Atlanta Journal-­Constitution, Fox News, Washington Post

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