While the growth in Georgia’s prison population has slowed after years of changes in the criminal justice system, the inmate count is expected to rise by more than 1,200 inmates in the next half-decade, according to a new state audit reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Had we not been doing criminal justice reform, that 1,200 number would probably be 7,500 or so,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, whose panel requested the audit. The report raises a broader question about who should house those new inmates.
The audit says it costs the state more to house inmates in private prisons than state facilities, which is contrary to long-held beliefs of lawmakers who back privatization of government. The state pays two private prison companies almost $140 million a year to house 15 percent of its inmate population.
That’s about double what the state spent on private prisons 12 years ago. Florida-based GEO Group and Nashville-based CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America are active political players at the Capitol. Their contributions to candidates and political action committees in the most recent election cycle totaled more than $300,000.
Georgia spends $1.2 billion a year housing prisoners. In the year ending June 30, the state averaged just over 50,000 inmates a day, including those in private facilities and county correctional institutions.
When Gov. Nathan Deal took office in 2011, Georgia led the nation in criminal supervision, with 1 in 13 people locked up, on probation or on parole. The state was spending about what it is now on its prison system. If nothing changed, two new adult prisons would have had to have been built at a cost of $264 million.
Deal, with support from lawmakers, began a years-long effort to alter that trend, reducing certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanor offenses.