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Georgia Prison Officials Take Taxpayers for a Long Ride

Georgia prison officials used $23,602 from state prison industries profits to attend a conference on prisons in Israel tied to the country's 50th anniversary celebration.

DOC chief Wayne Garner defended the trip, saying he has been a" good steward of tax dollars." Garner said he paid his own air fare, but the state shelled out $18,244 for airline tickets for Assistant Commissioner Paul Melvin; Executive Assistant Duke Blackburn; and Debra Elovich, director of women's and juvenile services. The state also paid $1,755 each for three conference fees. Garner says his conference fee, which included hotels and meals, was picked up by Israel.

Participants in Israel's 50th Jubilee Prison Conference, June 21-25, 1998, visited four cities, changing hotels twice. They visited a mineral spa, toured the home of Jesus' disciple Peter, visited other ruins, and took a yacht trip on the Sea of Galilee. They also toured one Israeli prison.

There were 14? hours of meetings spread over the five days, according to the conference agenda.

Profits from Georgia Correctional Industries are usually reinvested in the industries. Some state officials were critical of Garner for using the money to pay for what appeared to be an extravagant junket.

"At a time when the Department of Corrections is severely shortstaffed, instead of spending money to correct that problem, we are appalled that the commissioner and his cronies decided to go sightseeing in Israel at taxpayers' expense," said Andy Freeman of the State Employees Union. "That is money that could have been used for new equipment."

Atlanta Journal Constitution

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