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Georgia Prisoners Riot Against Prison Conditions

Ware State Prison in Waycross, Georgia. Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections

“It was a hellhole long before COVID happened.”

Prisoners at Georgia’s Ware State Prison rioted Sunday after reports of high tensions due to coronavirus cases and poor living conditions. Two staff members and three prisoners were injured in the altercation.

Some reports say the unrest began after a power outage in the facility, and families of inmates reported prisoners were not being properly fed or given access to showers.

According to data from Georgia’s Department of Corrections, 22 inmates and 32 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as two prisoners dying from the virus.

Two weeks ago, an inmate at the facility was killed in what authorities described as an altercation between two inmates.

The Department of Corrections put out a statement that said “officers deployed non-lethal ammunition” after “golf cart was set on fire and several windows were broken.” The statement continued, “the facility was locked down at approximately 1:00 a.m., August 2.  At no time was public safety at risk.”

But some are questioning the Department of Corrections version of events based on inmate’s stories and viral video footage taken from inside the prison.

Video Footage

The viral video footage that has been spreading around was allegedly taken on contraband phones.

A former Ware State Prison corrections officer who recently resigned told News4Jax “Those videos were shot by inmates on contraband cellphones they brought in. We have been breaking policy — very short staff.”

Some of the unrest was streamed on social media, and clips shortly began to go viral.

Much of the video has poor lighting, perhaps corroborating reports of a power outage at the prison. The most viral clip shows several small fires, inmates walking around and what sounds like munitions firing.

Some other clips show an inmate bloody and injured from a “non-lethal” round.

Another clip, thus far unverified, showed what appears to be a prison guard handcuffed and being marched around by inmates.

The Department of Corrections official statement did not mention the viral footage captured from inside of the facility, nor did it clarify how the inmates or staff members were injured.

American Prisoners: Unprotected from Coronavirus

Across the country, prisons have been a hotspot of coronavirus with deaths in prisons reportedly increasing 73% since May.

In Georgia, 940 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and according to The Marshall Project, 78,526 people in prison have tested positive for the virus as of July 28. The last week has been the single largest increase in coronavirus cases in prison with 7,858 new cases reported.

Arkansas, New Jersey, and Tennessee have the highest rate of cases per prisoners. An astonishing 23% of people in Arkansas prisons have tested positive.

The conditions in American prisons are ripe for the disease to spread, and it has cost at least 766 lives.

The Georgia prison riot is not an isolated incident with actions taking place from inside and outside of jails to better inmate’s conditions.

Outside of San Quentin Prison in California, about 1,000 people protested Sunday and demanded Governor Gavin Newsom take action to protect prisoners from coronavirus. San Quentin has faced a large outbreak of the virus that has infected many inside the prison and outside with guards bringing the virus back into their homes.

California assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager echoed problems faced in the Georgia prison before riots ensued. Kamlager said, “we have a system that manages communal showering and washing…Instead of figuring out how else to do it, the state is limiting people’s ability to take showers.”

Activists and inmates in Fort Worth, Texas have also protested against the living conditions in jails and the lack of access to resources such as computers, a necessity to file for compassionate release.

The conditions in jails have added fuel to the fire for BLM activists and prison abolitionists who argue the coronavirus has only made matters worse in already dire conditions.

“It was a hellhole long before COVID happened,” Jordan Mazurek, the national prison closing coordinator at the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Alec Pronk

Alec is a freelance writer with an interest in both geopolitics and American domestic issues. He finished his Master's degree with a critical focus on government counterterrorism policies.

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