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Georgia DOC Turns to Private Prisons

According to a report by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, by July 2003 the state will have just 42,000 prison beds for a projected 55,000 state prisoners. This imbalance is primarily due to a "two strikes" law that took effect on January 1, 1995 and a new parole policy requiring felons convicted of any of 20 specific crimes to serve at least 90% of their sentences.

The parole board estimated the state will need to spend $1 billion to address the bed space shortage, and urged the Department of Corrections to include 13 new prisons in its next budget request.

Georgia Corrections Commissioner Wayne Garner disputed the board's findings, stating they were politically motivated. Garner claimed the report was a "scare tactic to try to convince people that if they do anything further to restrict the Board of Pardons and Paroles through mandatory sentences or abolishing the board, it's only going to cause them to spend billions and billions of dollars."

Georgia's prison population has more than doubled from 18,000 in 1989 to 38,000 in 1998; the state spends $700 million a year on its corrections system.

To increase the amount of available bed space the Georgia DOC has entered into contracts with two companies to build and operate three facilities. A 750-bed medium-security prison managed by Cornell Corrections, Inc. opened in mid-August, and two similar prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are expected to open by the end of November.

Both Cornell and CCA intend to expand the prisons next year, adding "speculative" beds to hold 1,600 convicts at each facility. Cornell Executive Vice President Steven Logan stated that although his company had not yet spoken with Georgia officials about using the extra beds, he feels confident the state will need them. CCA and Cornell will house out-of-state prisoners in the additional cells if Georgia decides not to fill them.

Commissioner Garner said he expects significant savings from the private prison contracts. The state will pay Cornell almost $116.2 million over the next decade and up to $101 million more if the extra beds are used. CCA will receive $363.5 million over 20 years and another $556.6 million if the state uses the additional prison bed space.

LaGrange Daily News, The Atlanta Constitution

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