Prison employee takes legal action against Georgia Department of Corrections

GLENNVILLE, Ga. (WSAV) – Retaliation and threats of violence are just two of the things that have happened to an employee at Smith State Prison.

Now Julia Roberts is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), claiming that she followed the rules and reported contraband, but no one listened to her.

In fact, she says, there was retaliation, with the GDC being blamed for the corruption and the “unsafe” working environment.

When News 3 contacted the GDC about this, a spokesperson responded: “The GDC does not comment on pending litigation.”

Roberts worked in the mailroom at Smith State Prison. She says inmates and unarmed workers have little to no protection from officers.

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“If you assume there are about 1,300 inmates … how on earth are you going to run a prison when you have seven employees,” she said.

The complaint states that Roberts was injured by an inmate on June 30, 2022.

“I was attacked in prison by an inmate who poured boiling water with a caustic chemical on me. I had severe burns on my left side and everything indicated that it was retaliation for what was going on because I stopped this influx of contraband,” she said.

So she started photographing and documenting everything she could.

“I didn’t want to be the next police officer killed,” she said.

According to Roberts, the prison is run by inmates and gangs fight for power behind the fences.

“The inmates threatened to kill me. When I found out that they actually murdered people, I had no idea,” she said.

Roberts says she saw boxes arrive with the name of then-prison warden Brian Adams on them. She felt as if the contraband had appeared out of nowhere.

“At the end of 2021 to 2022, we just received [contraband] in the hundreds,” she said.

The most worrying contraband that came in regularly were PlayStation controllers. Roberts says inmates would use them to fly drones and throw contraband through holes in the prison roof.

Roberts says that given what she saw, she was almost more afraid of the warden and his staff than of the prisoners.

“I'm not afraid of the inmates. I've never been afraid of the inmates per se. I'm afraid of the staff. I don't know who's good, who's bad or who's involved,” she said.

A GDC spokesperson sent News 3 this statement on June 19, 2024:

Accusations that GDC does not “crack down on smuggling” are completely false. The fight against smuggling is a daily occurrence and takes place at all GDC facilities, not just Smith SP.

Roberts has been unable to work since February 2023 and is receiving compensation.

News 3 asked her if she would return to work once the lawsuit was settled and her injuries healed.

She said, “No way.”