Brian Kemp's Murder Factory
The state prison system has a tenth the population of Atlanta under lock and key, and Kemp can't keep them from being murdered. Those deaths are on him.
The Intercept just ran my story looking at the casual horror of Georgia’s prison system. The first bit:
“DONTAVIUS MINTZ MOTHER says her son had been dead in his cell for days when the smell finally attracted attention. Guards at Ware State Prison in Georgia are supposed to check on people in the hole regularly. Of course, they’re supposed to be doing a lot of things they’re not doing right now.
That’s the message Mintz had been trying to tell people outside prison. Mintz, a 24-year-old serving a life sentence, had been working with a prison reform activist group, the Human and Civil Rights Coalition of Georgia. In letters and phone calls, Mintz had described the deteriorating condition of the South Georgia penitentiary, the shortage of guards, the increasingly inedible food, the extreme restriction on movement, and more, said Brian Randolph, a spokesperson for the coalition.
And then Mintz turned up dead last week.”
This story wasn’t all that hard to get. The journalistic problem isn’t finding source material. We are awash in video evidence and personal testimony. The problem is finding the willingness to listen to marginalized people talk about a problem that looks time-consuming and difficult to fix.
There is so damned much pain here.
The prison advocacy group They Have No Voice has been screaming into the void for two years about deteriorating conditions that predated the pandemic. The Southern Center for Human Rights has been sending warning letters about prisons for years now, to little formal response.
I fear that the situation lends itself to radicalization and exploitation. At a protest a few days ago, some rock solid mainstream legislators were flanked by fringe candidates for state and local office, including one fellow “running” for mayor who hadn’t bothered to qualify. He says he’s a write in candidate, but as a practical matter it means that he couldn’t raise $5,529 to put his name on the ballot. He’s also a Black conservative endorsed by the likes of Johsie Cruz and retweeting Donald Trump Jr.
When we think about prison gangs, we conjure an image of tattooed Aryan Nations thugs drawing people in as an act of “protection” from Bloods or Crips, or vice versa. Prisons are gardens of extremism, preying on people who are vulnerable and marginalized.
To a degree, the families of the imprisoned face similar marginalization. Social stigma builds a wall around families with a loved one in prison. Their pleas sound like beggars on a street corner, met with the appearance of sympathy and a quickened step away.
To the marginalized, anyone who listens becomes a friend, regardless of how toxic that person might be. Of such things are multilevel marketing programs and Scientology auditing sessions made.
That’s dangerous. The cause for prison reform right now should be a mainstream political problem. It’s a human catastrophe, of a magnitude that should shock the conscience on examination. The desperation of parents and children and spouses with family members locked away will attract “advocates” looking for a payday.
If Gov. Brian Kemp wants to be “tough on crime,” he could start with a problem that is solely his to solve: the state of the prisons he controls.
Prisons remain broken because there’s no political benefit to fixing them. The Department of Corrections is a governmental money pit. Every person imprisoned costs about $23,000 a year to hold in a cell. It’s a $1.1 billion hole in the budget generating neither revenue nor votes.
The commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Timothy Ward, serves at the pleasure of the governor. The 20 deaths classified as murders this year — and dozens more that probably will be — are on Kemp. A four-fold increase in the prison murder rate has made the one group of citizens Kemp is most closely responsible for less safe than a Black kid on an Atlanta street corner.
But no one wants to hear it.