“Justice Agency Accused of Rights Violations”

Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle staff writer Johnny Edwards reports. Excerpt:

The Atlanta chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which covers state employees, is accusing the Department of Juvenile Justice of using polygraph tests to muzzle Augusta workers and possibly violating their First Amendment rights.

Guards and nurses at the Augusta Youth Development Campus who have spoken out in recent months haven’t had nice things to say about the facility for incarcerated teens.

Speaking both publicly and anonymously, they have told of unfair working conditions for black workers, policy violations, sex between boys in custody and allegations of rape and abuse.

Now reports have seeped out that the administration is using lie detector tests to find out who’s been talking to the media and how The Augusta Chronicle obtained incident reports and medical documents backing up employees’ accounts.

“The spotlight was on the department, but once the cameras are off, they go back to what they were doing, which is to harass and intimidate,” said Ralph Williams, the president of Local 1985 of the union.

Mr. Williams said polygraphs are used to discredit and demean employees. The tests, administered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, can be a scarlet letter on a worker once they’re over, he said.

Union representatives will be in the parking lot of the facility off Mike Padgett Highway today interviewing workers as their shifts end, Mr. Williams said. Preparing for litigation, the union wants to know how many people have been given lie detector tests and whether anyone has been harassed for speaking out about working conditions.

An attorney for the union sent a letter last week to Mike Sorrells, the deputy commissioner of human resources. The letter accused the department of retaliating against employees for speaking out on workplace conditions by requiring them to take polygraph tests, changing their work shifts or threatening the loss of their jobs if the Augusta YDC becomes privatized because employees can’t get along.

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