Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News
Political Rewind: Georgia's prisons under scrutiny after two deaths
Grant Blankenship, reporter and editor, GPB News
Kevin Riley, @ajceditor, editor-at-large, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Kurt Young, professor of political science, Clark Atlanta University
Tiffany Williams Roberts, @twrobertslaw, director of public policy, Southern Center for Human Rights
1. Two inmates' recent deaths have put Georgia's prisons in the spotlight.
- 71-year-old Anthony Joseph Zino, an inmate at Smith State Prison, was found in his cell five days after his death. His body was badly decomposed, requiring two body bags.
- 35-year-old Lashawn Thompson died in Fulton County Jail. He was found covered in bug bites in a filthy cell. The following investigation saw three officials step down.
- The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division launched an investigation into Georgia's prisons in September of 2021. The probe has faced stonewalling from Georgia Department of Corrections.
- Georgia's prison population disproportionately includes Black Georgians. Clark Atlanta University's Dr. Kurt Young tied the trend to the legacy of slavery and socioeconomic status.
2. What needs to change in Georgia's prisons?
- More than underfunded prisons and shorthanded staff, Tiffany Williams Roberts says Georgia's carceral institution hasn't focused on reform and rehabilitation, so its problems will continue.
- Young noted Georgia's private prisons may have profit motive to continue incarcerating its inmates.
- During his second term, Gov. Nathan Deal focused on prison reform, expanding programs like the Accountability Courts. With stricter penalties and legislation, Gov. Brian Kemp's policy seems to move in the other directions.
3. What is Georgia's Department of Corrections investing in?
- GDC is spending $600 million to build a new prison that would replace four smaller state prisons. But critics say the move addresses only superficial issues with Georgia's prisons.
- A 2019 audit found that private prisons cost 10% more per prisoner than state facilities. Two private companies receive nearly $140 million from the state to house 15% of Georgia's inmate population.
- Read the ACLU's report on crowding in Fulton County Jail here.
Georgia Public Broadcasting is in its spring fund drive. Please consider pledging your support.