At least 360 Georgia prison guards have been arrested for contraband since 2018, newspaper finds

Sep 25, 2023, 4:20 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — At least 360 employees of Georgia’s state prison system have been arrested on accusations of smuggling contraband into prisons since 2018, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, with 25 more employees fired for smuggling allegations but not arrested.

The newspaper finds that nearly 8 in 10 of Georgia Department of Corrections employees arrested were women, with nearly half of them 30 years or younger, when ages could be verified.

Those figures reflect in part a prison system that struggles to recruit employees, often hiring young women with no law enforcement experience. Despite recent salary increases, correctional officers in Georgia are paid less than those in many other states.

Corrections Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said he has taken steps to identify corrupt staff since being named to the post in December. “Once we know that they may be compromised, and we get that information, we deal with it and we get them out of there,” he said.

Oliver acknowledged that contraband is the “driving force” for violence inside Georgia prisons, as well as violence that spills into the outside world.

Gang members sometimes recruit allies to come work as officers and smugglers. Other officers can be corrupted by money or intimidated by threats of violence, according to the report.

“We have got a chronic, persistent issue in the state of Georgia of bad apples within the Department of Corrections doing all sorts of things. It’s a problem we’re dealing with every day,” said District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale, whose eight-county rural district includes several prisons.

Barksdale said his office prosecutes as many murder cases from attacks orchestrated from inside prisons as it does from outside.

Some prison employees were paid thousands of dollars before they were caught in schemes that continued for months or years, the newspaper’s investigation found. Those prosecuted rarely face prison time. Employees may bring in illicit cellphones, drugs and tobacco or turn a blind eye to contraband deliveries. They may also issue warnings about upcoming shakedowns, help launder money, or unlock doors.

The requirements for prison officer training in Georgia are minimal: a high school diploma and a criminal history that doesn’t include felonies. Unlike the federal prison system, the Georgia system doesn’t research the credit or financial histories of its applicants.

The newspaper found that at least a 13 officers holding ranks of sergeant or above have been arrested or fired since 2018 for contraband offenses.

Killings outside and a sprawling contraband scheme inside Smith State Prison in Glennville led to the arrest and dismissal of the warden, Brian Adams. He has been charged with racketeering, bribery, making or writing false statements and violating his oath as a public officer.

Warrants say Adams was being bribed in connection with a gang running contraband inside the prison. Members of the gang, including its alleged head, are charged with three murders. It was not immediately known if Adams has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

One of those slain was of Bobby Kicklighter, an 88-year-old man who was shot to death in his bed in 2021 in the middle of the night. Investigators said they determined that Kicklighter was killed by mistake after the gangleader ordered the slaying of a guard who was believed to be cracking down on contraband.

Aaron Littman, an assistant professor at the UCLA School of Law and faculty director of UCLA’s Prisoners’ Rights Clinic, said corruption can be “profoundly toxic.”

Understaffing and corruption also encourage inmates to join gangs and get weapons because the few guards on duty can’t ensure their safety.

“Placing somebody in a facility where there’s rampant, serious crime being committed by the people running the place is not exactly a promising way to rehabilitate someone,” Littman said.

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At least 360 Georgia prison guards have been arrested for contraband since 2018, newspaper finds