Georgia Prisoners' Fight for Human Rights

By Yeldell, Cynthia | The Crisis, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Georgia Prisoners' Fight for Human Rights


Yeldell, Cynthia, The Crisis


The NAACP is spearheading an effort to investigate possible human rights abuses in the Georgia prison system.

Georgia prisons came into the national spotlight in December when inmates went on strike, refusing to leave their cells and report to their prison work assignments.

Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, said the organization became involved when prisoners called to report abuse.

Initial concerns, DuBose said, included lack of medical care, excessive physical abuse, manipulation of parole, nutritionally deficient meals, excessive fines, abuse of power and lack of compensation for labor.

"Inmates have jobs such as cleaning roads, cleaning government offices, sewing clothes. We look at it as slave labor because they are not being compensated," DuBose said. "If you are going to fine inmates and make a phone call a major expense, you have to find a way to compensate them for at least some of the work they are doing."

Prisoners staged what has been referred to as the largest prison strike in U.S. history, reaching out to explain their cause to different human rights organizations and media outlets using banned cell phones.

Four Georgia facilities - Hays State Prison in Trion, Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, Telfair State Prison in Helena and Smith State Prison in Glennville - were put on lockdown. They were returned to normal five days later when prisoners agreed to go back to work after the NAACP and other organizations took up their cause.

"We may have underestimated how widespread these concerns were until the prisoners went on strike," DuBose said. "What was unique about this strike, and an indication of how truly a problem there was, was different hate groups working together, groups such as the Klan, the Nation of Islam and different gangs. The abuse was so great it forced these people to do something we on the outside have not been able to do, which is work together."

DuBose said the prisoners' issues are of concern for the NAACP because the majority of the prisoners are African American. African Americans make up 29 percent of the state population in Georgia and 64 percent of the prison population.

"The prisons are filled with African American inmates. When you talk about civil rights, hardship, families bearing the burden - it's happening to Blacks," he said.

The NAACP was part of the coalition group, Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights, which initially contacted Georgia prison officials on behalf of the inmates. Organizations such as the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta, the Coalition for the People's Agenda, the Nation of Islam and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus are also part of the coalition.

The coalition met with officials from the Georgia Department of Corrections on Dec. 17 and requested an end to the use of excessive force on inmates and retaliation against prisoners practicing non-violent protests. …

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