SEIZED FROM PRISON
Weapons, cell phones, drugs found at Hays State Prison:
Time period // Weapons // Cellphones // Drugs
Year 2012 // 572 // 235 // 52
January 2013 // 192 // 137 // 56
Source: Hays State Prison CompStat report
Each morning, two dozen guards strap on full body armor, hoist their riot shields and head to the showers. It's time for the prisoners to wash up.
Inmates at Hays State Prison can't be left alone with one another, not even in the showers.
Since three prisoners were stabbed to death inside Hays in a six-week rash of violence, and at least two officers were assaulted by inmates who escaped from cells with broken locks, the Georgia Department of Corrections has called in its special forces to help restore order.
These specially trained and equipped tactical squads of 12 officers each have been on duty around the clock at Hays since the first of the year, supplementing a guard staff short by more than 16 percent in January, the latest figures available.
Corrections officials have assured state legislators and the public that the maximum-security prison in Trion, Ga., is under control. Yet even after 250 inmates from Hays were shipped to other prisons in early February, two full tactical squads report to the prison daily.
Officers inside Hays say the units search constantly for hidden weapons and cellphones, the tools of death inside the walls and extortion of people on the outside.
In one month those tactical squads confiscated 137 cellphones -- eight times the amount found in December. These officers also seized nearly 200 knives, shivs or other types of weapons from prisoners.
Since the killings, the prison remains on lockdown and inmates aren't allowed to go anywhere on their own. Yet officers still slapped 106 inmates with major disciplinary actions, and a January report shows officers used force against inmates four times that month.
Guards say the focus on making the general population at Hays safe leaves other places vulnerable. As more officers are moved to the main section of the prison, fewer guards are working in the annex building where 400 inmates are housed, said an officer who asked not to be named because he feared for his job.
"This leaves the annex dangerously understaffed," he said.
Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said the tactical squad units from other Georgia prisons have been on a 12-hour rotation at Hays since the beginning of January.
But it took the Department of Corrections eight days to give the Chattanooga Times Free Press records showing how much contraband was found in the prison. Department officials cited problems with their email server and a legal counsel getting food poisoning. Three days is the legally prescribed limit for responding to such requests barring extenuating circumstances.
The Department of Corrections also has tried to charge the Times Free Press more than $16,000 for officials' personnel records and for copies of certain emails.
Corrections officials say they provide lunches for the squad officers on certain occasions. Hogan didn't respond to questions about where the money comes from to buy the food.
Across from the prison, in Walmart, Subway workers have been making dozens of foot-long sandwiches that are taken to the prison three times a week, said manager Angela Fuller. Two months ago, employees were making 60 foot-longs; now they're down to 35 foot-longs, she said.
The sandwich shop appreciates the business and as long as they're keeping Hays safe, Fuller said, "I'm happy and the town's happy."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...