Georgia’s legislature has not debated its prison-focused approach in the way other states have, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but the discussion may be inevitable as a prison budget that consumes more than $1 billion a year threatens to force further cuts in education and other high-priority programs. “The executive, legislative and judicial branches have to get together on this, because we can't have the mind-set of simply locking people up and throwing away the key,” said lawyer Gary McCorvey, a former district attorney who served 12 years as a Superior Court judge. “We need to break that cycle. But no one ever wants to do that. No one wants to be labeled as soft on crime.”
Georgia spending on corrections has increased fivefold since 1985 due mainly to longer stays in prison. Georgia already spends less than most states to house a convict: $49 a day compared with a national average of about $79. The total state budget of $17.9 billion is $3 billion lower than it was just three years ago. Corrections did its part – officials cut prison staff, closed outdated facilities, and triple-bunked some cells. Making further cuts will be difficult if the inmate population stays the same or continues to rise. Lawmakers will likely face a difficult choice in the 2011 session: Opt for more teacher layoffs, higher college tuition bills, and less money for transportation, or make changes to lower Georgia's prison population.