Georgia agrees to pay $350,000 in lawsuit bought by inmate’s family

The state has agreed to pay the family of an inmate strangled and beaten to death in his cell at Hays State Prison $350,000.

According to the settlement agreement The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained on Wednesday, the money will be paid to Damion MacClain’s family in exchange for dropping the lawsuit they brought, blaming the state prison system for MacClain’s death on Dec. 26, 2013, death.

The agreement says the settlement is not an admission of liability but was made “to seek peace and secure resolution and to terminate further controversy.

MacClain’s was one of three deaths in five months at the northwest Georgia prison. At the time, Hays was becoming increasingly dangerous because faulty locks allowed inmates to leave their cells and roam at will. MacClain’s family said that was how other inmates were able to attack him in his bed.

According to the suit brought on behalf of the MacClain family by the Southern Center for Human Rights, prison officials knew conditions at Hays had deteriorated to a level that allowed stabbings, beatings, and assaults on inmates and officers.

Prison audits in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 all reported cell door locks at Hays could easily be circumvented. Yet prison officials did not fix the locks or find a way to control the movements of the inmates at the high-security prison, according to the complaint.

Two other inmates were killed by other prisoners at Hays in the weeks before and after MacClain’s death. A fourth inmate — 19-year-old Pippa Hall-Jackson — was stabbed to death by another inmate just moments after the two stepped off the bus that had transported them from Hays to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson on Feb. 5, 2013.

A week before MacClain was killed, Derrick Stubbs was found beaten to death in his cell. Nathaniel Reynolds was killed by other inmates at Hays on Jan. 18, 2013.

The families of Reynolds Hall-Jackson filed similar federal lawsuits in recent weeks, making the same allegations of rampant violence and chaos at Hays that MacClain’s family made in their complaint.

Last July, the Southern Center asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate violence in state prisons but federal authorities have not responded to the request.

The Southern Center wrote in a letter to the Justice Department Georgia’s prisons were “dangerously unsafe” for inmates, corrections officers and ultimately citizens who encounter the offenders once they are released from prison. Last year, for example, 21,000 of Georgia’s 55,000 inmates were freed.

The Southern Center, which advocates for prisoner rights, has documented dozens of incidents since 2010, including the violence involving Hays State Prison inmates. Since 2010, a correctional officer and 33 inmates have been killed and more prisoners have been seriously injured. Gangs, the Southern Center said, operate freely inside cell blocks.

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