Kemp hires consultants to examine troubled state prison system

Moves comes amid a spate of deaths, staff arrests and investigations
Gov. Brian Kemp announced that consultants from Guidehouse Inc. would conduct an assesment of the Georgia Department of Corrections in response to recent prison violence. Guidehouse Inc. is comprised of The Moss Group and CGL Companies, both of which have specialized in correctional facility planning and operations. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp announced that consultants from Guidehouse Inc. would conduct an assesment of the Georgia Department of Corrections in response to recent prison violence. Guidehouse Inc. is comprised of The Moss Group and CGL Companies, both of which have specialized in correctional facility planning and operations. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp announced late Monday that Georgia’s Department of Corrections would undergo an in-depth assessment to identify ways to improve the prison system.

Over the next 12 months, consultants with Guidehouse Inc. will visit prisons, conduct interviews with stakeholders, work with GDC personnel and do research, before coming up with recommendations on changes to the system. Until that examination is complete, the announcement said, neither the state nor the consultants will comment.

Guidehouse Inc. is comprised of The Moss Group and CGL Companies, both of which have specialized in correctional facility planning and operations. The governor’s announcement did not say what the consultants would be paid.

Kemp’s announcement comes amid record violence and a series of disturbing murders, including the fatal shooting of a kitchen worker by a prisoner at Smith State Prison Sunday. It also comes as the state awaits the widely-anticipated report from a federal investigation of prison violence by the U.S. Department of Justice.

An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year exposed widespread corruption in the prison system, including how hundreds of GDC employees had smuggled in drugs and other forms of contraband. The stories also detailed extreme understaffing, extensive illicit drug use by inmates, record numbers of homicides and suicides and large criminal enterprises run by prisoners that killed and victimized people on the outside.

Credit: Lewis Levine

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Credit: Lewis Levine

Kemp characterized the assessment as his latest measure to improve public safety statewide.

“By ensuring our correctional facilities have the funding, technology, infrastructure, and operations to fulfill their mission, this comprehensive assessment is the next step in achieving a safer, stronger Georgia for all who call the Peach State home,” Kemp said in a press release.

The killing of the food service worker on Sunday by an inmate who then took his own life is just one of the more startling events that have occurred within the Department of Corrections over the last several years.

In May, a Georgia correctional officer was charged with felony murder after he allegedly allowed three inmates armed with a machete into a cell of another man. In April, a federal judge issued a blistering 100-page contempt order, finding that GDC officials willfully disregarded requirements to improve deplorable conditions inside the high-security Special Management Unit prison.

Last year, a Georgia prison inmate lay dead in his bunk for five days — his body stuffed inside a mattress and decomposing — before anyone on the prison staff responded.

At the same prison, the warden, Brian Adams, was arrested and fired last year for being part of a massive contraband scheme operating out of the prison. Prosecutors contend that the leader of the scheme was an inmate, Nathan Weekes, who also is alleged to have orchestrated three murders on the outside. One of those killed was 88-year-old Bobby Kicklighter, a beloved resident of Glennville, who was shot to death in the middle of the night. An investigation found it was a case of mistaken identity after Weekes allegedly ordered a hit on a correctional officer.

The prison system also drew national attention when it was revealed that Arthur Lee Cofield, an inmate in the Special Management Unit was able to use a contraband cellphone to steal $11 million from the Charles Schwab account of a billionaire movie producer.

The DOJ’s civil rights division began investigating the GDC in September 2021 and is expected to issue its initial report soon. The system is also under review by a state Senate panel organized earlier this year.