Bill to Ban Private Prisons in GA Needs a Committee Hearing

It’s time. The time has come to eliminate private prisons in Georgia and it could be a real thing if the measure dropped by Rep. Scott Holcomb moves through the Georgia House.

Private corporations would not be able to operate correctional facilities in Georgia under HB 403.

The language of the bill does not cancel any current contracts in place but would bar the renewal of any contracts once they expire. Specifically, the definition of detention center would include “prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, parole revocation centers, long-term and short-term youth detention centers, boot camps, and probation detention centers” that are operated by the Georgia Department of Corrections. It would not cover federal facilities in Georgia.

Private prisons have been under fire for a number of years by justice reform advocates as they argue that the prisons should not be for-profit entities and across the United States, the private prison industry is a multi-billion industry. But supporters of privatization have long held that it’s cheaper for taxpayers if the prisons are contracted out.

An audit requested by House Appropriations Chairman Terry England found in December of 2018 that private prisons are actually not cheaper to operate than state-run prisons.

“The audit says it costs the state more to house comparable inmates in private prisons than state facilities, which is contrary to long-held beliefs of lawmakers supportive of increased privatization of government,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Currently, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) has four prisons run by two private companies, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and The GEO Group. The four prisons house almost 7,800 inmates – or 15% of the total population – and the state pays the companies a collective $140 million annually.

The audit reported that, when controlling for an offender’s sex, facility size and risk classification, state prisons run about $44.56 per offender per day and private prisons run around $49.07 per day per offender.

The GDOC contracted with both companies more than a two decades ago and the contracts renew annually, with little-to-no negotiations and no bidding process for other services or companies. The contracts require a minimum capacity for the privately run prisons, which include Coffee County Correctional Facility, Jenkins Correctional Facility in Millen, Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, and Riverbend Correctional Facility in Milledgeville.

Additionally, private correctional facilities are not subject to public record laws and don’t have to report how money is being spent, despite the funneling of tax dollars to the businesses to conduct state business. These facilities also have the ability to accept or decline an offender based on medical conditions and mental health concerns, which drives down costs.

Private Prisons have a heavy hand in campaign donations in Georgia. (See full list here) The companies donated more than $100,000 to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 2017 and 2018.

The bill has been assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security members here.

You can contact the Chairman of the committee, Representative Bill Hitchens, by email at [email protected] and request that he give the bill a hearing. I hope you will.

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