Wave after wave of Georgia prison employees have become criminals themselves — smuggling in contraband or allowing others to do it and at times pocketing payoffs in the thousands, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. Prisoners have run elaborate drug-trafficking networks and cybercrime schemes as well as extortion and other criminal enterprises, all with the help of the contraband supplied by dirty guards, nurses, cooks and even high-ranking officers. The widespread corruption has fueled violence inside the prisons and enabled stunning crimes victimizing people on the outside. State officials say outsiders, not employees, are largely to blame for contraband. Prisoners’ friends, family and gang associates are responsible for providing most of the phones, drugs and other prohibited items.
Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said he has taken steps to identify corrupt staff since being named to the post in December. “Once we know that they may be compromised, and we get that information, we deal with it and we get them out of there,” he said. The overwhelming dynamic facing the Department of Corrections is this: As fast as dirty officers are arrested, new ones take their places. That leaves the department, the state’s largest law enforcement agency, “in a cycle of ‘whack a mole,’” according to indictments earlier this year in a multimillion-dollar contraband scheme at Smith State Prison. In its investigation, the newspaper uncovered more than 425 cases in which corrections department employees have been arrested since 2018 for crimes on the job. Some were charged with brutality, extortion or sexual assault. But most arrests — at least 360 — involved contraband. In 25 additional contraband cases, employees were fired but not arrested.