ATLANTA — A rise in inmate deaths in Georgia spotlights the use of cell phones by gang members who communicate within and outside of prison walls to plan violent attacks.
Of the nine inmates and one corrections officer killed last year, seven were prison gang-related, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI investigates each inmate attack. The three killings thus far in 2013 are gang related, they said.
In 2008, only two inmate deaths were reported. Four were reported in 2009 and seven each in 2010 and 2011.
“It is important to note that the offender population is becoming increasingly violent and the department remains committed to ensuring the safety of the public, our staff and, to the extent possible, the safety of our inmates from each other,” DOC said in an e-mail to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Officials said smuggled cell phones allow inmate gangs to communicate and plan attacks. The Journal-Constitution reports as many as 10,000 cell phones have been confiscated in a year.
“We cannot remember a time like this when we were getting this volume and severity of violence,” said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which monitors prison violence.
“The prisoners are running the dorms. Gangs run the dorms,” said Totonchi. “Cell phones facilitate a level of gang behavior and coordination that formerly was only available on the outside. They (DOC) continue to turn a blind eye.”
Inmate Caesar Rogers is charged with stabbing to death Telfair State Prison correctional officer Larry Stell on Oct. 11, 2012. Two guards were attacked by armed prisoners at Hays State Prison last month. They survived.
Inmate Nathaniel Reynolds Jr., who was serving a life sentence for a 1998 murder, was stabbed to death in a fight at Hays on Jan. 8. It happened as he was being returned to a cell block after being segregated from other inmates.
“They were waiting on him outside. He didn’t even make it back to the building,” his father, Nathaniel Reynolds Sr., said. He said his son was able to get cell phones even while separated from other inmates.
“It’s obviously getting worse and there are no signs of it letting up,” Sara Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center, said. “(DOC) is failing to realize the severity and scope of the problem. . It’s well past the time for the department to retain an independent outside expert.”