“Preventable Security Lapses”—Gun Violence Comes to Georgia Prisons

    At around 4 am on June 16, Smith State Prison became the site of the only fatal shooting in recent memory carried out by someone in Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) custody. Aureon Grace, a 24-year-old food service employee, was shot by 34-year-old Jaydrekus Hart, who then turned the gun on himself. 

    The Atlanta Constitution-Journal reported that death certificates at least as far back as 2017 do not reference any similar shootings. In the 13 years I was incarcerated in GDC facilities before being released in 2023, nothing like this ever happened. GDC did not respond to Filter‘s inquiries.

    Corrections officers (COs) do not carry guns while on duty. But rumors of guns inside GDC facilities have been of increasing concern to prisoners and advocates.

    “We’re constantly on edge, and this shooting just makes things worse,” Alias*, who is currently incarcerated at Smith and was in the outer section of the kitchen when the shooting occurred, told Filter. “It’s not just about the violence. It’s about the lack of control and the feeling that we’re not safe.”

    Alias said that he’s seen two guns while incarcerated at Smith, on two separate occasions.

    “There have been warnings about guns behind the walls for more than a year.”

    GDC has stated that the weapon used on June 16, a semi-automatic pistol, is in department custody and that an investigation will follow. 

    “GDC is not operating secure prisons. There have been warnings about guns behind the walls for more than a year,” organizer Susan Sparks Burns told Filter. “Nearly all the prisons receive both drone drops and staff deliveries of contraband. And we advised [GDC] that the guns were coming in by bits and parts for later assembly.”

    Sparks Burns is the founder of Facebook group They Have No Voice, a central resource for people in GDC custody and their loved ones. It’s obvious to all what the problem is: understaffing.

    Smith is one of GDC’s seven highest-security facilities, and in 2023 was the site of the most homicides. In October 2023, a Smith CO was killed by a prisoner using a homemade knife. GDC published a press release for that death, but has not published one for the events of June 16.

    Seven people incarcerated at Smith were also killed in 2023. Two were killed while the Department of Justice was on the premises. Another was not found for five days.



    The Atlanta Constitution-Journal reported that as of May, Smith had a 67-percent vacancy rate, with just 54 COs on staff. The facility currently houses 1,326 people spread across 16 living units. More than 500 are serving life sentences, and more than 700 designated as gang-affiliated.

    “Three to five officers [on duty] is commonplace in these prisons,” Sparks Burns said. “Preventable security lapses [are] a clear indication that reform is urgently needed.”

    Decreasing the violence requires more than just stricter security measures. It requires a holistic approach that includes improved training for prison staff and improved health care, food and parole access for prisoners.

    “This place is full of weapons,” Jig*, currently incarcerated at Smith, told Filter. “It’s no surprise that something like this happened. The guards can only do so much… We need better security, but we also need better conditions overall.”



    * Names have been changed to protect sources.

    Top and inset images via Georgia Department of Corrections

    • C is a writer and advocate interested in prison/criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction and government/cultural criticism. She has studied history/theology with the Third Order of Carmelites and completed degrees in Systematic Theology. She is currently studying law.

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