EDITORIAL: Prison transparency is fundamental

February 12—The people of Georgia have a right and need to know what is happening behind prison walls in our state.

The people of Georgia have the right and need to be informed about corruption within the prison system.

The people of Georgia have a right and need to know why people are dying behind bars.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the state prison system is unacceptable and inconceivable.

The Georgia General Assembly needs to stop talking about prison reform and start doing something about it.

As we stated earlier, several things need to be changed, but at the top of the list is the clear and unambiguous language of the Georgia Open Records Act which requires full and complete disclosure of all records, including all information relating to the death of prisoners or injuries, all reports, prison staff files and all documents relating to disciplinary measures.

As we previously reported, in just one prison in the system, Valdosta State Prison, there were at least six inmate deaths in 2022 alone. However, prison officials did not independently report any such deaths. Instead, it took a general open registration application filed by the newspaper to find out even that a single death had occurred.

So, to find out that someone died in the prison, you need to know or at least suspect that an inmate died, know the time frame in which the death occurred and the prison in which it occurred in order to even begin the process of discovering deaths occurred within the prison walls.

Requiring all records to be public is, of course, not enough, but it is an extremely important part of what needs to be done.

The General Assembly shall make regular and consistent public disclosure mandatory and easily accessible to the public.

There is no reliable federal database that tracks prison deaths in the United States. Incredibly, the US Justice Department said it had stopped trying to keep those records because the states under reported incarcerated deaths.

The fact that the DOJ knew that deaths were underreported should have led to more scrutiny, not elimination of the reporting mechanism.

People die behind bars from many causes including poor health, suicide, murder, and the ever nebulous “undetermined” reasons.

Prison officials in our state have said they are underfunded. The state allocated additional money last year, which should mean more guards, better pay and better facilities. While this is good news, it does not solve the fundamental and fundamental problem of how opaque our prison system has become.

The General Assembly must address the issue urgently: people are dying.

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