published Monday, March 11th, 2013

Guard shortage persists at Hays State Prison

Hays State Prison is in Trion, Ga.
Hays State Prison is in Trion, Ga.
Photo by Dan Henry.
UPDATED: Life and death at Hays State Prison

Corrections officials won't comment about what's happening these days inside Hays State Prison.

But money talks.

And the latest figures say that the persistent shortage of guards hasn't been solved and that the need for extra vigilance remains high at the violence-wracked penitentiary in Trion, Ga.

Hays State dished out more than $100,000 in overtime to its employees in February, the highest total in at least 14 months, according to statistics provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

In all, more than 100 officers filled in on night shifts, weekends and elsewhere to offset a guard shortage that has been running at more than 16 percent.

Even with all the overtime, Hays has had to supplement its guards with tactical squads from prisons across the state to maintain order.

And that's despite inmates only being allowed out of their cells for recreation and showers.

Since warden Rick Jacobs replaced ousted warden Clay Tatum a month ago, Hays inmates have remained on lockdown.

"We've had a lot of concern from family members," said Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based advocacy group.

"Lockdown is not a permanent solution. The department has to find a way to run the prison safely and securely."

Totonchi said the group is getting reports that privileges slowly are being reinstated. Yet there are continuing complaints from inmates' kin, who have not been allowed visitation since early January.

Some of the complaints have to do with prisoners going hungry.

Because they are served meals only twice a day on weekends and are not allowed store access during the lockdown, inmates must do without, Totonchi said.

Officers inside Hays confirmed that some of the inmates -- current population 1,492 -- gradually are being allowed to return to their normal routines.

The orderlies, the inmates who cook in the kitchen and clean, have been allowed to come out of their cells twice a week to watch television, said one officer, who didn't want his name used because he feared for his job.

Prison officials have said they have made it a priority to address staffing shortages and broken locks, which guards say helped set the stage for the six-week spate of violence starting in mid-December that left three inmates dead inside Hays.

Both deficiencies had been documented well before the violence broke out, the guard shortage as early as April 2012 and the problem locks at least two years ago.

For nearly two months now, tactical squads have scoured the prison searching for contraband.

Records show that these specially trained and equipped units of 12 officers each searched different housing units nearly every day in January, finding dozens of shanks, knives and cellphones. In just 12 days, the officers confiscated 169 weapons and 88 cellphones.

On the last day of January, the officers searched the whole prison and found 44 weapons and 12 cellphones in one day. That's one of the highest numbers of contraband items found in one day during a formal prisonwide shakedown, a comparison report shows.

One unit called the Cobra squad arrived at Hays on Jan. 19.

That was too late to help Nathaniel Reynolds.

The convicted murderer was ambushed and killed by other inmates the day before.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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