A new audit report released at the end of December indicates that privately run prisons are more costly for the state of Georgia than those run by the state.

Private prisons have been a hot topic for advocates of justice reform for many years 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 privitization have long held that it’s cheaper for taxpayers if the prisons are contracted out.

Now the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Monday that “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.”

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.

The audit was requested by Georgia House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, who said he wanted to see “whether criminal justice changes affected long-term projections for Georgia’s prison population.” According to the audit, the prison population growth has slowed in recent years, but is expected to rise by 1,200 people in the 5 years, despite justice reform initiatives in Georgia. The increase will leave Georgia prisons at, or exceeding, capacity.

State Representative Scott Holcomb, a moderate Democrat who has worked ona number of bipartisan legal initiatives, posted his thoughts on the audit Monday saying he’s requested a copy of the audit so he can dig into the numbers, too. Menawhile, Chairman England told the AJC that he isn’t sure if the comparison includes pensions and wants to dive deeper.

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Jessica Szilagyi
Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as agricultural news. She has a background in Political Science, with a focus in local government, and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.She's a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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