WAYCROSS, Ga. – Three inmates and two staff members were injured during unrest at a state prison in Southeast Georgia that began Saturday night, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
A golf cart was set on fire and windows were smashed during the melee at Ware State Prison in Waycross, Georgia, and officers had to deploy “non-lethal ammunition” to bring the scene under control, the department said in a statement Sunday.
The statement says there was “no major damage to the facility” reported and that none of the injuries were life-threatening. The disturbance began at around 10:45 p.m. Saturday night, and the facility was locked down by around 1 a.m. Sunday, officials said.
Georgia State Patrol, the Ware County Sheriff’s Office and Waycross Police Department confirmed their agencies responded to an incident at the prison. Waycross police told News4Jax they sent five officers to help secure the perimeter around the prison.
Some of the disturbance was streamed on social media. The cellphone video from inside the prison has gone viral.
“Those videos were shot by inmates on contraband cellphones they brought in,” said John Eason, a former Georgia Department of Corrections officer who worked at the Ware State Prison for 10 years.
Eason said he resigned two weeks ago.
“We have been breaking policy -- very short staff,” he said.
Eason said he believes if Ware State Prison had more guards, the disturbance “absolutely would not have happened.”
“The fear of that was what if you get taken, hostage or beat up. The inmates have control of your keys and they can pop every inmate in your building out and they can walk out the door,” Eason said.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said this sort of thing can easily happen inside a prison, but that officers here handled the situation well.
“That’s a pretty good response time for a facility like that. You have hundreds of inmates. You have to account for all of them. You have to be methodical with that process. You can’t rush it because some could be hiding somewhere for a chance to go through a door, an unsecured door, or attack a CO, so they have to take the time to defuse the situation. and an hour and half time frame is not a long time at all,” Jefferson said.
A Ware State inmate was killed two weeks ago in what authorities said was an altercation with another inmate. The Waycross-Journal Herald was told tensions were high in the prison due to COVID-19.
Department of Corrections data shows 22 inmates and 32 staff members at Ware State Prison have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, according to the Department of Corrections, five inmates and 12 staff members have recovered.
Ware State Prison houses adult male felons and has a total capacity for 1,546, according to information about the facility on the department’s website.