New prison commissioner blocks inmate interviews - CBS46 News

New prison commissioner blocks inmate interviews

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Mangrum Mangrum

Is secrecy part of a new policy with a new commissioner at the Department of Corrections?

CBS46's Sally Sears has repeatedly asked to talk to inmates on camera. Her request has been denied every time.

In the past, Sears has interviewed members of a prison choir and sat down with other inmates to hear and tell their stories. Not any more.

Joe Hamlin is convinced the Georgia prison system is deliberately refusing to let an inmate talk on camera. 

"It would be a black eye on the Department of Corrections," said Hamlin.

Hamlin is convinced that the man who has spent more than a decade behind bars for the murder of his teenage daughter is innocent.

Katie Hamlin was 15 when she was killed in July of 2002. Her nude, partially burned body was found two days later along Kemp Road in Acworth near Kellogg Creek.

After years behind bars, letters from prison inmate Jamerson Mangrum helped change Hamlin's mind. Now he believes Katie's killer is out there somewhere; and an innocent man is in prison.

But the state won't let the Mangrum talk on camera. 

"It's like a brick wall. The DOC, rules and regulations," said Hamlin. 

CBS46 took Hamlin's complaint and our recent experience to Forsyth, Georgia where we sat down for a wide ranging talk with the new man in charge of the DOC, Homer Bryson.

When Sears asked Bryson why he is consistently denying requests to interview inmates, Bryson said, "You have access to every inmate in our facility. Write them a letter. Write them a letter."

"The change in policy makes it appear you are hiding something," said Sears.

"I disagree there's a change in policy," said Bryson.

Sears recorded interviews with many prisoners to produce a documentary on a wonderful Georgia prison choir, "Harmony in Hard Time".

Last month the DOC allowed a television interview with an escaped inmate, on the lam for decades, and captured with the help of U.S. Marshals. They concluded the long-lost inmate was not a security risk for a television interview.

This week the same officials denied another request to talk with Mangrum.

CBS46 attorney Josh Pila couldn't believe it.

"I'm sorry, but I'm having a hard time reading this email with a straight face. You are saying that an interview with an inmate who escaped from Georgia prison, foiled law enforcement for several decades, and required the assistance of U.S. Marshals to return him poses little security risk, but [CBS46's] request does? That doesn't sound like the application of objective criteria. It sounds like the department is trying to cover its tracks," said Pila.  

Moments after disagreeing on the policy, Bryson admitted he cannot say if the policy has changed or not. 

"I don't know if that's the case or not. [I can] Only speak to last eight months I've been here," said Bryson.

Significant prison changes in Georgia and around the country are underway, affecting tens of thousands of Georgia families.

It's a hard job in the public eye, but much less likely to succeed if the job is done in secrecy.

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