Georgia’s corrections department, with a budget of nearly $1 billion and responsibility for more than 47,000 inmates, hasn’t had a permanent leader since January, and isn’t likely to get one until the fall, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The department’s second-in-command is in Washington on military duty, forcing one of five division directors to run the department.
Some are concerned the department lacks the stability of a permanent leader at the time of an exploding inmate population and a budget crunch. “They’ve got some good leaders over there…but we need, going into the second year of the governor’s administration, to have someone in charge,” said state Rep. Gerald Greene (D-Cuthbert), chairman of the committee that oversees the prison system.
Joe Ferrero, acting commissioner, said he makes major decisions every day, even while he is in Washington as an Air Force lieutenant colonel whose classified mission is related to homeland security.
Georgia’s corrections system faces many challenges. The inmate population has doubled since 1992. Inmates are staying in prison longer, due in part to tougher sentencing laws. The number of inmates requiring specialized mental health care has more than quadrupled in the past 11 years. At the same time, the department has less money. Its annual budget was cut about $41 million this year, down to $916 million.
The Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta nonprofit that advocates for prison reform, has two federal lawsuits pending against the corrections system alleging inmate abuses at two prisons. The group charges that some inmates have been placed in situations where they were subjected to physical assaults by other inmates. “There’s no question the department has serious problems with mentally ill inmates. There’s been a number of deaths in the department, very serious problems with children in the department,” said Stephen Bright, director of the center. “Some leadership is needed by a commissioner to deal with those problems.”