Valdosta Daily Times

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April 5, 2013

Georgia prisons chief sued; group claims agency violates open records law

ATLANTA — A group that focuses on fighting human rights violations against inmates on Thursday sued the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, saying the agency is violating the state’s open records law.

The Southern Center for Human Rights and the mother of a Georgia inmate who was killed by other prisoners filed the lawsuit against Commissioner Brian Owens in Fulton County Superior Court. RaHonda MacClain’s son, Damion, died at Hays State Prison in Trion in December.

The complaint says the Department of Corrections failed to produce some public records that were requested and demanded “exorbitant and unreasonable” fees to produce others. The department asked for a total of more than a quarter of a million dollars for records related to recent inmate deaths and alleged security lapses at Hays State, the complaint says.

Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said the department doesn’t comment on active lawsuits.

“Putting a quarter-million-dollar price tag on public records undermines public confidence in the GDC at a time when confidence has already been shaken by recent homicides and serious security lapses at Hays State Prison,” said Southern Center lawyer Sarah Geraghty.

Hays State has seen a string of violent acts over the past several months. Damion MacClain was killed in a fight in a prison cell on Dec. 26, and Derrick Stubbs was found dead while in protective custody on Dec. 22. Nathaniel Reynolds, 30, died at an area hospital on Jan. 18 following an altercation with fellow inmates.

Another Hays State inmate was killed in February, the same day he was transferred to another prison. Two corrections officers were attacked by inmates at the prison Jan. 27.

The warden at the prison was reassigned within the department in February and an interim warden was named to oversee the prison which houses roughly 1,460 male inmates.

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