Private prisons in Georgia cost more than state-run prisons in the state, audit says

The state found that it cost more to house inmates in private prisons than in state run facilities, particularly with the declining prison population

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An audit of the prison system in Georgia revealed that private prisons cost more to house inmates than state-run facilities, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

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According to the audit, state prisons cost about $44.56 per inmate per day, compared to $49.07 for similar inmates in private prisons.

State Rep. Terry England, who serves as the Georgia House Appropriations Committee chair, wants to take a closer look at the numbers to determine if expanding state prisons is a better alternative than spending more move on private prisons, especially in light of the projection that the state’s prison population is decreasing.

England credits criminal justice reform, saying his committee set out to determine if criminal justice changes affected long-term projections for the state’s prison population. “Had we not been doing criminal justice reform, that 1,200 number would probably be 7,500 or so,” said England. His panel requested the audit.

Some criminal justice changes that took place help prison numbers to recede.

For instance, in 2011, then-Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia would need $264 million to build two new prisons at the incarceration rate of the time. One out of every 13 Georgians was in jail or on probation and corrections officials projected that number would keep climbing.

As a reform, some nonviolent felons were charged with misdemeanors and punishment for drug possession was revamped, giving offenders with small quantities less severe penalties. With the changes, hundreds of nonviolent offenders avoided prison time.

The state of Georgia has a prison budget of about $1.2 billion a year, according to reports.

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The Georgia Department of Corrections, which ended the 2018 fiscal year June 30, was averaging about 50,000 inmates a day, along with those in private prisons and county jails, according to the Journal-Constitution.

But Florida-based GEO Group and Nashville, Tenn.-based CoreCivic are two private prison companies which receive $140 million a year for 15 percent of the inmates being housed at their facilities. The GEO Group defended the cost:

“We believe our cost would be lower if the auditors had compared all of the services and programs we offer at the Riverbend Correctional Facility,” the company said in a statement.

Further, Rodney E. King, public affairs manager at CoreCivic, said in a separate statement: “GDC’s contract with CoreCivic empowers the state with the flexibility to adjust inmate populations as needed and also provides the budgetary certitude of knowing the total costs of incarceration for a defined period of time.”