Dire budget projections for Georgia’s prison system means that some inmates must be released, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoting a sheriff. Sheriff Tyson Stephens of Emanuel County, a member of the state Board of Corrections, said sheriffs throughout Georgia are struggling to fund jails packed with convicted felons waiting for transfer into state prisons. Stephens the state parole board needs to begin releasing more inmates to relieve crowding of prisons and jails. Corrections officials say they might have to close four prisons, lay off an additional 50 employees, and implement a hiring freeze to balance its budget. The prison system’s 2004 budget of $882 million is the same as in 2001 – when it held 7,000 fewer inmates and employed 100 more people.
The proposed prison closings “will give us the worst jail crisis we’ve had in the history of jails in Georgia,” said board member Bill Massee, sheriff of Baldwin County. “I view this as a true public-safety issue that the Legislature or someone is going to have to address. It’s going to be a terrible unfunded mandate.” Milton E. “Buddy” Nix Jr., chairman of the state parole board, said the panel is working overtime to consider inmates who might be worthy of early release. But it is critical that the board make thoughtful, informed decisions, with public safety as its chief priority, Nix said. The board also faces budget cuts. A parole officer ideally should supervise 50 parolees; in Georgia, one supervises about 80 parolees, he said.