On Monday seven Georgia prison guards were arrested for their involvement in the December beating of Terrance Dean, a 29-year-old prisoner in Macon State Prison after a highly publicized prison strike.
Christopher Hall, Ronald Lach, Derrick Wimbrush, Willie Redden, Darren Douglas Griffin, Kerry Bolden and Delton Rushin were each charged with aggravated battery and violation of oath of office, Atlanta's WALB reported. Their arrests were the result of an inquiry done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations at the request of the Department of Corrections. A coalition of prisoner rights advocates and allies demanded the GBI investigate the case earlier this year after they heard reports of retalitatory violence against prisoners.
The news was greeted with cautious optimism from prison reform advocates. "This news gives us hope that this is the first step of many toward reform in the Georgia prisons," said Edward DuBoce, president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, one of the organizations that called for the investigation. "But Terrance Dean's is just one of many abuses."
According to the prisoners advocates organization Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, witnesses said the day after a fact-finding delegation visited Macon, Dean was dragged out of his cell on December 16 and beaten unconscious by Correctional Emergency Response Team guards. The coalition suspected that the beating was a measure of retaliatory abuse for their visit, even though Dean was not a vocal organizer of the massive prison strike that began on December 9 and led to a weeklong lockdown of at least four Georgia prisons. Thousands of inmates stayed in their cells and refused to report for work duty to call for compensation for their prison labor, better educational opportunities, nutrition, and medical care. Prisoners told their allies that prison officials shut off the hot water and heating and beat prisoners during the strike.
Since then, groups like the NAACP and the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights had been communicating with the Department of Corrections and Governor's office to demand long-term reform, demand accountability for Dean and other inmates' abuse and investigate the whereabouts of 37 other prisoners who were involved with organizing the strike.
"The fact that the GBI has arrested them and that they were charged with aggravated battery is a strange charge, given that Dean was beaten unconscious and mercilessly, and secretively taken out of the prison," said Elaine Brown, the head of the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights.
Brown added that Dean's family could not locate him for two weeks despite repeated calls to locate him. After he was beaten, Dean was shuttled to a hospital, and then to Jackson State Prison and later to Augusta State Prison where he is now, DuBoce said, adding that Dean was not an organizer of the strike.
"What happened to Terrance Dean is not unique by any means," DuBoce said. "The abuse that he experienced is exactly what prisoners have been complaining about."
DuBoce said that Dean, unlike many other prisoners, happened to have concerned family members on the outside who aggressively pressed prison officials for information about their son. The exact nature of Dean's injuries is still unclear, DuBoce said, but Dean is still in a wheelchair as a result of the attack.
"If it happened on the street you would have called it attempted murder," Brown said.
"The arrests are attributable to the real force that the men demonstrated in their own nonviolent strike that the Department of Corrections had to do something," said Brown. "We'll see what the outcome is of any trial that the guards are required to go through.
Brown said that prisoner rights advocates' main focus continued to be ensuring that the Georgia prisoners' demands were instituted, and that prison officials were held accountable for abusing inmates. "We'd like to figure out how to move forward in a different path as opposed to just asking the Department of Corrections to investigate itself."
Georgia employs 15,000 Department of Corrections staff for a prison population of 55,000. One in 15 Georgia residents is incarcerated or under correctional supervision, reported Reuters.