Georgia NAACP protests prison head

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 16, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

By Tom Doran in Atlanta

Georgia's NAACP called Jan. 2 for a federal grand jury investigation into what Georgia Conference President Walter Butler has labeled the "re-enslavement of our people" by Prison Commissioner Wayne Garner.

Forty demonstrators led by the NAACP were excluded from the monthly meeting of the state prison board here which refused to hear their objections to Garner's policies and demand that he resign.

NAACP members described hundreds of complaints from inmates, their families and friends in opposition to Garner's year-old regime. On Dec. 15 Garner fired all 270 full-time teachers and counselors employed by the prisons, saying that prison should be "about punishment, not rehabilitation."

Garner is well known in Georgia for his pronouncement that "30 to 35 percent of the inmates ain't fit to kill and I'm going to be there to accommodate them."

He cites Christ as the inspiration for his partially implemented plan to require daily marching drills by inmates, followed by ditch-digging. The resulting prison yard ditches, he says, will be immediately filled up for the next day's labor, and inmates will be too tired to watch color TV or work out with weights.

Televisions and barbells are being removed from state institutions on Garner's orders.

Protesters also denounced another Garner innovation. They pointed to three federal lawsuits filed in the wake of his "contraband searches." Specially organized SWAT teams have descended on state prisons to search inmate living quarters.

The inmate lawsuits object to brutal beatings in the course of the searches. Prison spokesperson Mike Light justifies the searches, explaining they have uncovered significant contraband, including "unauthorized amounts of clothing and snack foods."

Garner frequently attends the televised searches, wearing black fatigues and combat boots. Local press sources have noted the costume, pointing out that the gray-haired, middle-aged commissioner is of average stature and weighs "somewhat" more than 200 pounds.

NAACP demonstrators briefly occupied the office of Georgia Governor Zell Miller after being excluded from the prison meeting. Miller refused to meet the group, later issuing a statement endorsing the Garner policies and objecting that the NAACP hasn't "joined in our effort to reduce crime."

The protest included representatives of the ACLU and the Georgia State Employees Union, on behalf of fired teachers and corrections officers anxious over the results of the Garner policies.

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