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The GDC’s announcement of the closure follows a proposal from Governor Brian Kemp to replace four of the state’s outdated correctional facilities.
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.
Plans for how the approximately 80-year-old facility at Reidsville will be used in the future are being discussed but there are no plans for demolition. As far as where new prisons will be located, there are tentative plans for Tattnall County but nothing has been set in stone at this point, Heath said.
Constructed in the late 1930s, Georgia State Prison houses approximately 1,530 inmates. 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.
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 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.
Human rights advocates have argued that 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. 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 Georgia Department of Corrections' most recent report, it cost the state $24,032 to house each inmate in 2019. The corrections department website recorded as of December 2021, Georgia state prisons were housing 47,020 inmates.