At least four Georgia prisons were locked down Thursday in an effort to head off an expected inmate protest demanding pay for the work they do, more education opportunities and better living conditions.
“We have a non-negotiable mission to protect and serve the public, as well as the offenders in our custody,” said Tim Ward, director of the state Corrections department unit that operates the prisons. “The Department stands prepared to respond to any emergency within our facilities.”
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Peggy Chapman said there had been no problems at any of the state’s 30 prisons and there was nothing to suggest the long-rumored protest happened.
“For us, it was a rumor,” Chapman said. “There’s nothing really going on. Inmates are working … [except at] the prisons we put on lock down. I think that [the protest] was the plan but I don’t think it’s come to fruition.”
But prison activist Elaine Brown said inmates at eight prisons were refusing to work or to participate in any other activities, and were remaining in their cells for the one-day protest.
“They are striking to press the Georgia Department of Corrections to stop treating them like animals and slaves and [to] institute programs that address their basic human rights,” Brown said.
Brown said inmates had called with protest updates Thursday using contraband cell phones.
Brown also said officers at Augusta State Medical Prison had conducted a search of the entire institution and there had been some inmate-officer confrontations, which Chapman denied.
“I can verify that there have been no shakedowns in any of Georgia’s prisons today,” Chapman said Thursday.
One of the inmates’ demands is to be paid for their work. System-wide, inmates cook and serve meals, clean and maintain the prisons and are dispatched to other government buildings to clean, repair and paint them. But Georgia law does not allow for paying state prisoners except for the 20 inmates at two prisons participating in the Prison Industry Enhancement Program; they are paid $7.25 and hour .
Chapman said wardens at four state prisons had opted for locking inmates in their cells. When a prison is locked down, inmates are not allowed visitors, phone calls or visits to the prison commissary.
Chapman said no decision has been made on how long the four prisons would be locked down. She declined to identify the prisons for “security reasons.”
In addition to the demand for a “living wage,” the prisoners want education opportunities beyond getting a GED, better medical care and an end to fees inmates must pay for infirmary visits. They also want fruit and vegetables with their meals, better access to their families, “decent living conditions,” programs that will teach them work skills, and “just parole decisions.”