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July 3, 2013

Georgia prison safety threatened by faulty locks

ATLANTA — State officials say faulty locks may be a root cause of the deadly violence occurring in Georgia's high-security prisons.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/12BVREg ) reported Monday that state facilities housing gangs and hardened criminals continue to deal with the dangers of doors that do not lock.

Three prisoners died at Hay State Prison in Trion between December and January, with a fourth killed moments after transferring from Hays to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson. Hays, which can house nearly 1,700 men, is considered one of the most dangerous prisons in the state system.

An internal audit last year found about 41 percent of inspected locks failed at both Hays and Valdosta State Prison. In February, the corrections department signed a $1 million emergency contract to replace cell door locks at Hays.

Sarah Geraghty, senior attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, thinks inaction is a factor in prison deaths.

"It should not have taken the deaths of four Hays prisoners before the (Georgia Department of Corrections) made this a priority," Geraghty was quoted by the AJC as saying. "Allowing the prison's locks to deteriorate for years put officers and prisoners at risk and likely increased the eventual cost of lock replacement."

A 2011 report from the state inspector-general questioned the cost-effectiveness of the department's locking systems and whether it was taking advantage of more-updated technologies.

Faulty locks have been a concern for years, but the department is working to implement a "comprehensive security plan that includes ongoing improvements and enhancements," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The state corrections department plans to improve all high-security facilities, which include Hays, Baldwin, Hancock, Macon, Smith, Telfair, Valdosta and Ware state prisons, the newspaper reported. Most experienced instances of inmates killing inmates in the past year.

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