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replace four of the state’s outdated correctional facilities. Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath said the department will announce additional closings in the coming weeks once local staffers are notified.
Among the new expenses in Kemp's state budget proposal is a $600 million plan to buy a newer prison and construct a 3,000-bed facility to house medium and high-security prisoners. The governor said it would save the state money in the long run.
'These investments will allow us to close four of our older and most dangerous facilities, saving the state operational costs in the future while providing safer environments for our correctional officers,' Kemp said during his annual state of state address.
The Georgia Department of Corrections' fiscal year 2022 budget is $1.1 billion. Kemp's proposal calls for amending it to $1.2 billion this year and increasing it to $1.26 billion in fiscal year 2023.
Appropriations leaders will review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Appropriations leaders are considering Kemp's proposal in their plans, which calls for spending $3 billion more than previously proposed over the two years. Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward told appropriations leaders last Wednesday the restructuring plan is needed because the prison system's infrastructure was not designed to hold as many violent offenders as it does now, especially with long sentences. Ward said 73% of the 45,551 inmates in the state's 35 prisons are there because of violent offenses. However, Human rights advocates said instead of spending more money on new prisons, the state should be funding preventative resources. Georgia also has 12 transition centers and 11 substance abuse treatment centers, Ward said. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections' most recent report, it cost the state $24,032 to house each inmate in 2019.
The governor also has proposed spending $23.8 million in the current fiscal year to replace radio communications systems and $5.5 million for wireless infrastructure upgrades at all prisons.
In fiscal year 2023, Kemp has recommended spending $7.2 million for personnel services and operating costs to establish a regional transportation hub system.
Kemp said his proposed spending on corrections is long overdue. “As our judicial system has focused on providing rehabilitative support in the community where appropriate for low-level, nonviolent offenders to avoid recidivism, our state prison population has become filled with increasingly violent offenders.”
He wrote in a budget report, “Our aging prison facility infrastructure was not intended to house the level of offender who resides there today, and it requires higher levels of staffing and facility maintenance to manage these dangerous environments.”
Georgia’s prison officials struggled to address a number of problems in recent years, including accusations of mistreatment of inmates, riots, deadly assaults on inmates, attacks on correctional officers, and concerns about the poor physical condition of the facilities.
In September 2021, a federal civil rights investigation began looking into prisoner deaths, rampant violence and abuse of gay, lesbian, and transgender people held in Georgia prisons.
According to the corrections department website, as of December, Georgia had 34 state prisons housing 47,020 inmates, The closure of state prisons would result in the loss of jobs in rural communities, where jobs are hard to find and prisons are often among the largest employers. That is the case in Reidsville where the state prison was the largest employer in a community of 5,000 residents.
With aging infrastructure and the need for better security measures given for reasons for opening upto- date facilities, Georgia State Prison, built in 1938 and the oldest in the state, was a prime candidate for closure. The prison was most recently renovated in 1979. Georgia State Prison is located in southeast Georgia’s Tattnall County, which is also home to two other state prisons, Rogers State Prison and Smith State Prison in Glennville.
Corrections officials proposed closing Autry State Prison and five other state facilities in 2020 in order to save $22 million while offering employees the opportunity to work at other facilities. Georgia prison officials made a concerted effort to reduce the inmate population for health precautions following the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in 46,132 people held at the end of 2020, a dip from more than 53,000 the previous two years. The state Pardons and Parole board accelerated early releases for hundreds of inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. Over the last decade, Georgia also made strides in criminal justice reform that reduced the prison population and led to the state legislature passing a bill last year allowing some former inmates to end probation early.