ATLANTA (CN) - A Georgia prison demands $250,000 to respond to Open Records requests on Hays State Prison, where four inmates have been murdered in the past four months, a dead inmate's mother claims in court.
The Southern Center for Human Rights and Rahonda MacClain sued Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens, in Fulton County Superior Court.
The Atlanta-based human rights group, which provides legal services to the poor and imprisoned, claims that it and MacClain made nine official requests for records on the death of her son, Damion MacClain, and two other inmates who were murdered in Hays State Prison, in Trion, since December 2012.
Derrick Stubs was killed in Hays on Dec. 19, 2012; MacClain on Dec. 26, 2012; and Nathaniel Reynolds on Jan. 18, 2013, the complaint states.
A fourth person, 19-year-old Pippa Hall-Jackson, was stabbed to death by a former Hays prisoner on Feb. 5 this year when he was transferred to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison and stepped off a bus from Hays State Prison, according to the complaint.
"The GDC's inexplicable claim that it would take 31,333 hours to fulfill these requests - or the equivalent of 15 years of work for a person working eight hours per day, 50 weeks per year - is unreasonable and in violation of Georgia's open government laws," the complaint states.
Plaintiffs say the three prison murders happened at night, when cell doors are supposed to be locked.
"Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga., has been plagued with security lapses, deaths, and allegations of corruption," the complaint states. "Since December 2012, four inmates were murdered. Newspaper reports have highlighted security failures at Hays, including a longstanding problem of broken cell door locks, widespread possession of contraband by prisoners, and allegations that Hays administrators alert inmates before security 'shakedowns' so that administrators will achieve positive reviews on departmental security audits. There has been a significant increase in violence at Hays and other GDC facilities in recent years." (Footnotes omitted. Three of the four footnotes cite articles in the Chattanooga Times Free Press and/or Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)
MacClain's son was murdered "after lockdown" according to a Feb. 10, 2013 article by the Free Press. "'The murder was the result that the doors don't lock,'" the Free Press reported, attributing the remark to a former Hays officer, according to the complaint.
A Georgia Department of Corrections security audit of the prison in 2011 found that there was a history of broken locks at the facility.
"The locks in the in the inmate housing area could be easily defeated," the audit states. It cited mechanical and electrical locks not working, "trash, debris or foreign objects in lock latch pockets and lock latch bolts ... Rags towels, etc. being hung or signs of being hung on top of doors by inmates or staff causing hinge and lock misalignments," and other easily fixed problems that were not fixed.
Before a shakedown in June 2011, prison supervisors ordered guards to "go cell to cell and warn inmates that squads were coming to search for their homemade knives and illicit cell phones" and rewarded compliant inmates "pizza and buckets of fried chicken," the complaint states, citing the Free Press.
In response to the Center for Human Rights' Open Records requests, the defendants produced one page of each incident report for the four homicides and one page on an assault claims by the late Hall-Jackson, the complaint states.
"In response to Request No. 2, GDC produced one page documenting a grievance filed by Pippa Hall-Jackson, who claimed, on January 10, 2013, that a Hays officer assaulted him while he was handcuffed," the complaint states.
The defendants blew off other Open Records requests or responded to them only partially and cursorily, according to the complaint.
For each request, the GDC responded that it would take more than 10,000 hours of labor to search records at $8 per hour: an absurd $250,666 to respond to three requests, the complaint states.
"The GDC requested $80,000 before producing public records regarding two inmates; $90,666 before producing records regarding broken locks at Hays State Prison; and a further $80,000 for documents pertaining to security audits. In total, GDC demanded over a quarter million dollars for a limited number of records relating to recent deaths, malfunctioning cell door locks, and alleged security lapses at the prison. The defendant's actions in this regard were negligent, reckless, intentional and/or unjustified," according to the complaint.
In a statement on the Southern Center for Human Rights' website, staff attorney Sarah Geraghty said: "Putting a quarter million dollar price tag on public records undermines public confidence in the GDC at a time when confidence has already been shaken by recent homicides and serious security lapses at Hays State Prison."
Geraghty and MacClain want to see the records-and they don't want to pay $250,666 for them, and they want them faster than 15 years from now.
"The relief sought in this action is in the public interest. Members of the public, whose tax dollars fund the Georgia prisons, are entitled to understand and intelligently consider the conditions at Hays State Prison and other prisons," the complaint states.
Trion is in northwest Georgia, between Rome, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
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