Offices of the wardens at
Hay's, Macon State, Telfair, and Augusta state all referred our
inquiries to the Department of Corrections public affairs officer, who
so far has declined to return our repeated calls.
The prisoner strike in
Georgia is unique, sources among inmates and their families say, because
it includes not just black prisoners, but Latinos and whites too, a
departure from the usual sharp racial divisions that exist behind prison
walls. Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of
prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with
violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair
State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at
least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut
the prisoners' hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off
heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners
responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison
authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of
As of Friday, inmates at
several prisons say they are committed to continuing the strike. "We are
going to ride it," the inmate press release quotes one, "till the
wheels fall off. We want our human rights."
The peaceful inmate
strike is being led from within the prison. Some of those thought to be
its leaders have been placed under close confinement.
The nine specific demands
made by Georgia's striking prisoners in two press releases pointedly
reflect many of the systemic failures of the U.S. regime of mass
incarceration, and the utter disconnection of U.S. prisons from any
notions of protecting or serving the public interest. Prisoners are
demanding, in their own words, decent living conditions, adequate
medical care and nutrition, educational and self-improvement
opportunities, just parole decisions, just parole decisions, an end to
cruel and unusual punishments, and better access to their families.
It's a fact that Georgia
prisons skimp on medical care and nutrition behind the walls, and that
in Georgia's prisons recreational facilities are non-existent, and there
are no educational programs available beyond GED, with the exception of
a single program that trains inmates to be Baptist ministers. Inmates
know that upon their release they will have no more education than they
did when they went in, and will be legally excluded from Pell Grants and
most kinds of educational assistance, they and their families
potentially locked into a disadvantaged economic status for life.
Despite the single
biggest predictor of successful reintegration into society being
sustained contact with family and community, Georgia's prison
authorities make visits
and family contact needlessly difficult and expensive. Georgia no longer
allows families to send funds via US postal money orders to inmates. It
requires families to send money through J-Pay,
a private company that rakes off nearly ten percent of all transfers.
Telephone conversations between Georgia prisoners and their families are
also a profit centers for another prison contractor, Global Tel-Link
which extracts about $55 a month for a weekly 15 minute phone call from
cash-strapped families. It's hard to imagine why the state cannot
operate reliable payment and phone systems for inmates and their
families with public employees at lower cost, except that this would put
contractors, who probably make hefty contributions to local politicians
out of business.
Besides being big business, prisons are public policy.
The U.S. has less than five percent of the world's population, but
accounts for almost a quarter of its prisoners. African Americans are
one eighth this nation's population, but make up almost half the locked
down. The nation's prison population increased more than 450% in a
generation beginning about 1981. It wasn't about crime rates, because
those went up, and then back down. It wasn't about rates of drug use,
since African Americans have the same rates of drug use as whites and
Latinos. Since the 1980s, the nation has undertaken a well-documented
policy of mass incarceration, focused primarily though not exclusively
on African Americans. The good news is that public policies are
ultimately the responsibility of the public to alter, to change or do do
away with. America's policy of mass incarceration is overdue for real
and sustained public scrutiny. A movement has to be built
on both sides of the walls that will demand an end to the prison
industry and to the American policy of mass incarceration. That movement
will have to be outside the Republican and Democratic parties. Both are
responsible for building this system, and both rely on it to sustain
their careers. The best Democrats could do on the 100 to 1 crack to
powder cocaine disparity this year, with a black president in the White
House and thumping majorities in the House and Senate was to reduce it
to 18 to 1, and then only by lengthening the sentences for powder
cocaine. On this issue, Democrats and Republicans are part of the
problem, not the solution.
As this article goes to
print Saturday morning, it's not known whether the strike will continue a
third day. With prison officials not talking, and corporate media
ignoring prisoners not just this week but every day, outlets like Black Agenda Report
and the web site upon which you're reading this are among the chief
means inmates and their families have of communicating with the public.
The prisoners are asking the public to continue to call the Georgia
Department of Corrections, and the individual prisons listed below to
express concern for the welfare of the prisoners.
Prison is about
corruption, power and isolation. You can help break the isolation by
calling the wardens' offices at the following prisons. Prisons,
naturally , are open Saturdays and Sundays too.
Macon State Prison is 978-472-3900.
Hays State Prison is at (706) 857-0400
Telfair State prison is 229-868-7721
Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218
Valdosta State Prison is 229-333-7900
Smith State Prison is at (912) 654-5000
The Georgia Department of Corrections is at http://www.dcor.state.ga.us and their phone number is 478-992-5246
A Sunday update to this story will be posted at Black Agenda Report, about 9AM EST.