GROVETOWN, Ga. (WJBF) – As conditions at Augusta State Medical Prison deteriorated, Georgia Department of Corrections administrators continued to receive raises, a NewsChannel 6 investigation finds.

For this investigation, we spoke with 11 sources, including parents of inmates and former employees at the facility. All but one of the former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Former correctional officers tell NewsChannel 6 they felt unsafe at work. A former doctor at ASMP says multiple inmates died because of inadequate medical resources. We also heard allegations of deplorable work conditions and harassment. Meanwhile, the agencies responsible for the nearly 52,000 inmates from across the state have refused to go on-camera to face our questions.

“It’s about money. It’s about greed. It’s political,” said Debbie Whitlock, whose son is an inmate at Augusta State Medical Prison.

Whitlock is an attorney and county commissioner in northeast Georgia. Her son Anthony is in for drugs, but she says the time at the facility dosen’t fit the crime.

“The inmates are being abused. They’re being tortured. They are put in solitary confinement,” she said.

Former correctional officers tell NewsChannel 6 that inmates are indeed put in isolation on the medical floor if there aren’t enough beds, sometimes for weeks.

Other inmates aren’t lucky enough to survive, according to a doctor who worked at Augusta State Medical Prison for 16 years. Dr. Tim Young says that if an inmate has a serious condition, it may be months before they see a doctor. As of the last week of January, he says the backlog was at 1,000 requests.

“Over the years, I’ve seen numerous cases like that where people died,” he said.

Internal emails document equipment failing during surgeries, the power going out during a urology case, and surgeries being cancelled because of the temperature and humidity inside the building. One email reads, “flies have landed on the patient, surgeon, and sterile field more than once.”

Vicky Huff’s son James Hood died at the Augusta State Medical Prison in 2017. He entered the system with sickle cell disease. By the time he died six years later, he had lost an eye after an attack by other inmates. He had contracted hepatitis C– his kidneys were failing, and he experienced painful swelling of his genitals because of his sickle cell, for which doctors recommended castration, according to Huff.

“To me it was more torture than taking care of him,” Huff said. “Can you imagine what they’re doing with the other inmates?”

Hood was sentenced for murder, but the judge never sentenced him to torture, as his mother alleges he suffered.

So who’s being held accountable? After the conditions in the medical unit were brought to light a few months ago, the warden, Scott Wilkes was reassigned.

“This isn’t something that happened overnight,” Whitlock said. “Warden Wilkes didn’t cause this.”

Dr. Young says the facility really went downhill before Warden Wilkes took over in 2016, when Stan Shepard was warden.

“He has since been promoted to a higher level, but he was at Augusta State Medical Prison for three years. So over that three year period of time, that facility deteriorated,” Young said.

Last year Shepard made more than $100,000 a year as an assistant regional director for the Department of Corrections, a position created for him to oversee 16 facilities. That position didn’t exist until 2016. Now there are five assistant regional managers. Between their salaries and travel, the positions cost taxpayers nearly $480,000 last year. All of them were previously employed by the department, but they all also received raises upon this promotion.

Shepard has since been promoted again to Regional Director of the Southeast Region, effective January 1.

Young says the department really needs more employees and resources inside places like Augusta State Medical Prison, where the building is falling apart and staff can’t cover basic needs.

NewsChannel 6 reached out to Randy Sauls, the Assistant Commissioner of Heath Services with the Department of Corrections. His position was created in 2016. He makes more than $126,000 a year. His solution to the problems at ASMP? More administrative positions.

“Augusta University is in the process of naming a new hospital administrator,” Sauls said. “And also the agency has created the position of director of environment of care, which is a position that’s going to be new to that facility to maintain the environment of care there.”

Sauls tells NewsChannel 6 there will be no other added positions at the facility– just an annual cleaning of the building.

We reached out to Shepard and the Department of Corrections. A spokeswoman says it’s not important to point fingers, and all issues are being addressed.

The Breaking Point

Dr. Tim Young worked at the Augusta State Medical Prison for 16 years. He says his breaking point came on October 2.

“It’s 80 degrees at 8 o’clock in the morning in my clinic. All of my staff are pulling the trash. They’re bagging up the trash, and I was cleaning the toilet with Clorox wipes,” he said.

Young says the clinic he managed had been without air conditioning for two months. Trash was piling up outside the Operating Room. Flies followed. At one point, a worker sent out an email looking for fly strips.

At the end of December, Young resigned. He says he felt like the system was retaliating against him for raising concerns about sanitation, security, and healthcare.

“That was not met kindly by anyone on I think on the GCHC or GDC side,” Young said.

The Department of Corrections maintains the prison. Georgia Correctional Healthcare, which is a branch of Augusta University, is responsible for providing healthcare.

“That is a very big contract. That is a lucrative contract for Augusta University,” Young said.  “It is probably in a lot of people’s best interests that that contract stays open and the money keeps flowing uninterrupted. And the less noise that is made, the better.”

Taxpayers are spending $37.5 million to cover administrative costs at the Department of Corrections this year.

“There are always going to be budgetary constraints. However, it has appeared to me over the past several years there are not many budgetary constraints when it comes to hiring administrative staff,” Young said.

In response to allegations of sanitation issues at the prison, the Assistant Commissioner of Health Services at the Georgia Department of Corrections, Randy Sauls, has been working on a plan to oversee improvements.

He says they are working to set up a deep cleaning, which should take about six weeks. They’ll repeat that cleaning every year. The DOC has also created a new position- a director of environment of care. Georgia Correctional Healthcare will also bring in a new administrator.

We asked Sauls if the department is planning to hire any new people within the prison, such as nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, and correctional officers.

“Well we have our normal replacement plans, so nothing new to that area other than organizing the workforce that we have in an effective way,” Sauls said.

Inmates themselves are part of that workforce. Dr. Young says sanitation got really bad when the inmate assigned to clean the clinic was removed because he was a security risk.

We raised the concern of gaps between inmate workers to Sauls.

“Again, that’s one of the reasons we focused on leadership. Have to have good leadership. No matter what the job can be done. We’ve got to have leadership to provide that oversight,” he said.

We don’t know who the new administrators are or how much they will be making. We reached out to Georgia Correctional Healthcare for comment.They sent us a statement saying, “The safety of our patients is our top priority and we are supportive of Georgia Department of Corrections’ plan to address capacity concerns and ensure access to physicians and other health care providers for patients suffering from chronic and emergent conditions.”