Georgia lawmakers must demand prison system accountability.

That accountability must begin with transparency.

An Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation revealed this week that almost 200 Georgia Department of Corrections employees have been charged with serious crimes while on duty during the past two years. 

This comes amid a federal investigation into the state's prisons over poor conditions, suspicious deaths and numerous other allegations. 

The AJC report indicated a large majority of those arrested were corrections officers and 69 of those arrests were for drug offenses. The published report indicated 21 people working in the prison system were charged with battery and nine were arrested for sexual assault. 

When prison officials are allowed to operate in clandestine ways and conceal what goes on behind closed doors and iron bars, abuse and corruption go unchecked. 

The problems with Georgia's prisons keep mounting. 

The U.S. Department of Justice investigation is focused on 40 suspected or confirmed homicides since 2020, among other serious concerns. 

The feds want to know — and for good reason — if Georgia prisons protect inmates from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners and guards, acceptable conditions and protections for LGBTQ inmates from sexual abuse by other prisoners and staff.

Even the U.S. Department of Justice has found it difficult to obtain records from the state's prison system.

All documents related to prison policies, training materials, staffing, personnel discipline, prisoner complaints, incident reports and internal investigation materials should be open public records and easily accessible not just to the DOJ but to all the people of Georgia. 

The people of Georgia have every right to know what is going on behind bars and to get answers about the number of homicides, suicides and other suspicious unattended deaths that have occurred. 

Reports have shown prison violence is often linked to gang activity. There are more than 45,000 inmates in Georgia — 73% of them convicted of violent crimes. The DOC says 21% of the prison’s population have a mental health diagnosis. 

Death and injury, unsanitary conditions and other complaints should be thoroughly investigated and that requires transparency. 

The veil of secrecy around Georgia prisons does nothing but breed more suspicion and skepticism. 

All Georgia lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — should take these issues seriously, demand accountability and accept nothing less than absolute transparency. 

Jim Zachary is editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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