WAYCROSS, Ga. (WSAV) – A former Ware State Prison corrections officer is giving News 3 a look into what it’s like to work for an understaffed prison. This comes just days after a riot that injured two officers and three inmates.
The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) said because this incident is still under investigation they can’t verify details on the riot at this time. They have confirmed that one officer was released from the hospital and one is still recovering with non-life-threatening injuries.
The riot shook the Ware State Prison in Waycross Saturday. Graphic videos that were live-streamed on Facebook show what happened behind the prison’s walls. John Eason is a former corrections officer at the prison who is concerned for the safety of staff.
“I’ve heard so many horror stories it’s crazy and I really haven’t been able to get no sleep the past couple nights,” Eason said.
He left the job two weeks ago for safety reasons after the prison staff became stretched thin. He says at least 33 officers usually work per shift but lately that number has been below 10.
“We voiced our opinions multiple times over breaking policies and procedures and the shortage of staff,” Eason told News 3.
Eason said policies were broken when officers were asked to carry keys that give access throughout the prison. Allegedly inmates were able to get ahold of those keys the night of the riot. Eason said usually a control room is used to close inmates cells.
“We got so short we couldn’t afford to place an officer in those control rooms they just handed us the keys to the buildings,” Eason said.
When officers voiced their concerns to management he said their pleas for help weren’t answered.
“Unfortunately the answers we got were basically you can always find another job no one’s holding a gun to your head,” Eason told News 3.
The GDC wrote in a statement, “The GDC takes staff and inmate safety very seriously at all of our facilities, and we are diligent in working to ensure staffing levels are consistent and appropriate for maintaining our commitment to public safety.”
An annual report done by the GDC for the 2019 year shows the retention rate of correctional officers continues to be a challenge. 78 percent of the people the department hired that year were corrections officers, but 71 percent of those officers quit the same year.
“I hope everyone says a prayer for them because they’re getting thinner and thinner every night,” Eason said.