Home Family Law DOJ names excessive workers shortages in Georgia prisons a “persistent drawback”

DOJ names excessive workers shortages in Georgia prisons a “persistent drawback”

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ALBANY, Georgia (WALB) – As the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating how inmates are treated in Georgia state prisons, staff shortages are a top concern.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced the investigation during a news conference last month.

Clarke said the DOJ’s investigation revolves mainly around the number of assaults on inmates in Georgia prisons and how they are allowed to happen.

According to the GDC, as of January 1, 2015, 12% of all staff positions in the GDC’s state prisons were vacant. Five years later, on January 1, 2019, it was 18%.(WALB)

“Extreme staff shortages and high turnover among law enforcement officers are ongoing problems in Georgia,” said Clarke, adding that a staff shortage could create a dangerous environment. “It can lead to inadequate supervision and violence.”

According to Clarke, reports of violence in Georgia prisons led the DOJ to step in.

“Concerned citizens, family members and civil rights organizations – as well as photos and videos leaked on social media and other channels – have exposed widespread contraband and overt gang activity in prisons,” she said.

READ MORE: Parents are suing Ga. Correctional Department, others for 2017 suicide of transgender inmates

That included a violent riot at Ware State Prison last year.

Clarke pointed to “countless” violent attacks in Georgia prisons, including knife wounds and beatings, in which some inmates were killed.

“In 2020 at least 26 people died in Georgia prisons from confirmed or suspected homicides,” said Clarke.

The WALB requested staff numbers for Georgia state prisons for a period from 2015 to 2019.

As of January 1, 2015, 12% of the total number of vacancies for the Georgia state correctional facility staff were vacant.

Five years later, on January 1, 2019, it was 18%.

Experts say some concerns that could lead to vacancies in this area include security and pay.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said working in a correctional facility can be stressful and dangerous.

BLS said correctional officers and prison guards have one of the highest injury and illness rates of any occupation, often from exposure to inmates.

How much salary do state prison employees get?

WALB requested salary tables for GDC employees.

In 2020, a correctional officer at a Georgia state prison could earn between a minimum of $ 27,936 per year and a maximum of $ 45,884.42 per year.

Here is the breakdown of the minimum and maximum possible salaries for other correctional agencies:

  • Correctional officers could make anywhere from $ 35,479 per year to $ 50,472.86 per year
  • Correctional officers could earn anywhere from $ 37,558 annually to $ 55,520.14 annually
  • Correctional officers could earn anywhere from $ 40,570 to $ 62,868.40 annually
  • Correctional agency managers could earn anywhere from $ 44,627 annually to $ 62,868.40 annually
  • Correctional assistants could earn anywhere from $ 52,048 to $ 69,783.92 annually
  • Correctional officers could make anywhere from $ 59,451 per year to $ 85,980.77 per year
  • Correctional executives could earn between $ 54,536.37 and $ 95,438.66 annually

According to the BLS, the average annual wage for law enforcement officers and prison guards across the country was $ 47,440 annually as of May 2020.

This means that half of the workers in the profession earn more than this amount and the other half earn less.

BLS data showed that all correctional officers in Georgia at the time, on average, earned the third highest annual wage in the country, averaging $ 35,210 annually.

Only in Mississippi and Missouri did law enforcement officers earn less on average, according to the BLS.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Peter Leary also spoke during last month’s press conference.

He emphasized the importance of these employees.

“We work closely with our law enforcement and correctional officer partners in the state of Georgia on a daily basis,” said Leary. “These men and women are essential to our common goal of achieving a safer Georgia.”

However, he and Clarke claimed that there must be accountability when issues arise that lead to unsafe environments.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Peter Leary said it was unconstitutional ...Acting U.S. Attorney General for the Georgia Middle District Peter Leary said it was unconstitutional for inmates to be allowed to violently assault other inmates.(WALB)

“The conditions of detention, which allow detainees to engage in dangerous and deadly activities, are an injustice,” Leary said. “As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously noted, ‘Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke serves in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke serves in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.(WALB)

“Maintaining lawful and humane conditions in our nation’s prisons is a top priority,” said Clarke.

The Justice Department said it will notify the state of Georgia if its investigation finds a systemic violation of the constitution and then work with the state to find solutions.

It is not clear how long this investigation could take.

The WALB continues to investigate the treatment of inmates in Georgia prisons and their association with inmate violence and suicides.

We sent several emails to the Georgia Department of Corrections with questions about this story, but received no response.

WALB reached out to several law enforcement officials for comments but received no response.

If you’re a correctional officer in a Georgia prison and want to share your story, email us at news@walb.com.

Stay tuned as WALB Investigates further investigates a lawsuit alleging that an inmate has no access to mental health care and what advocates say should change to keep more people in prisons safe.

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