published Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Georgia officials, lawmakers to tour Hays State Prison

Hays State Prison is in Trion, Ga.
Hays State Prison is in Trion, Ga.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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UPDATED: Life and death at Hays State Prison

Public officials and lawmakers will get a look today at what millions of tax dollars are buying at Hays State Prison, but the media won't be allowed inside even though one lawmaker requested their presence.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he asked the Georgia Department of Corrections on Wednesday if he could bring a reporter into the prison to view progress on correcting security problems, giving the public an update on Hays. But Hufstetler said he was told "no" because the renovation project isn't complete.

The corrections department has been largely silent on the situation inside Hays since four inmates were killed in eight weeks between Dec. 19 and Feb. 5. During and after the violence, guards and even inmates provided the media with what little information could be had about the situation at Hays. All spoke anonymously because they feared retaliation.

There was hope that today's tour might offer the first glimpse of what state officials have said is a more secure Hays.

"I was hopeful that the news media would be on the tour," Hufstetler said Wednesday. "I will ask them [today] how long it will be."

Hufstetler said he also questioned why it's taking so long to complete security upgrades announced in February after Warden Clay Tatum was removed.

State Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told the department's board in February of plans to spend millions to fix broken locks and harden cells -- meaning a floor-to-ceiling remake of several housing units where the most violent prisoners will live.

The work includes replacing fixtures with stainless steel, removing sharp objects and bolting down the beds.

Meanwhile, the state has funneled $1.7 million to fix locks broken for at least two years and to replace the locking control system with touchscreen devices.

Corrections Director of Public Affairs Joan Heath said on Wednesday that the media isn't allowed on the tour because the "hardening project" isn't complete.

This is the third time the Department of Corrections has denied a public viewing of the prison's progress.

Department of Corrections board members will examine the prison this morning before their monthly board meeting, which will be held at the Rome-Floyd County Library.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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