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Seven Georgia guards face charges in wake of prison strike

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Seven Georgia prison guards were arrested on criminal charges stemming from an alleged assault of an inmate during a prison strike in December, officials said.

The seven guards at Macon State Prison are charged with aggravated battery and violation of their oath of office, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections statement released on Monday.

The inmate injured on December 16 was hospitalized "for an extended period of time," the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.

Also, one inmate was charged with battery against an officer, and at Smith State Prison three inmates were charged with aggravated battery on staff members and obstruction, and six others there were charged with obstruction, officials said.

Scores of Georgia inmates participated in a strike in December, refusing to leave their cells at several state prisons and demanding pay for prison jobs, which state law prohibits.

Experts believe the unusual coordinated action was organized in part by means of cell phones smuggled to inmates behind bars.

Some 15,000 Corrections Department staff oversee more than 55,000 prisoners in Georgia facilities, according to the state prisons website, which said one in 15 state residents is under correctional supervision of some kind.

Georgia prisons are under strain from a growing inmate population and from budget cuts, according to Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights which provides legal representation to inmates and advocates for prisoner rights.

The state has a higher percentage of its population in prison than most, Totonchi said. The overcrowded prisons have been triple-bunking their cells, she said.

In the aftermath of the inmate protests, Georgia prison officials last month requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into allegations of inmate beatings.

"We have an obligation to protect the public and that includes staff and inmates," Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said in a news release.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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