Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group and other for-profit companies must be driven out of Georgia's criminal justice system for it to be fair and effective, the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) argues in a recent report.
Having invested for years in state politics and lobbying efforts, private companies, the SCHR says, are now profiting off prison-dependent rural towns and Georgia's standing as the correctional-control capital of the U.S.
"With powerful companies like CCA and GEO," says SCHR's November 2012 report, "...Georgia runs the risk of having its correctional policy be driven by the financial need to incarcerate rather than sound policies regarding punishment and sentencing."
The state's burgeoning corrections budgets and incarceration rate forced Gov. Nathan Deal to reconvene Georgia's Criminal Justice Reform Council to ultimately make recommendations to the Georgia legislature. The ubiquity of criminal justice privatization, however, began with Georgia lawmakers.
Since 2003, Georgia politicians have accepted $382,333 in campaign contributions from private prison companies–the third-highest total of any state over the last decade. In the past year, CCA and GEO have opened two state prisons, adding to the other seven facilities they operate in Georgia under federal or state contracts, and now incarcerate about 5,400 Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) prisoners between the two of them.
In addition to current GDC contracts with GEO and CCA, Georgia's proposed FY2013 budget includes $35 million for another 2,650 new private prison beds, in spite of GDC cost analyses indicating that private prisons cost more per-prisoner per-day than state-run prisons.
Private probation companies have also left a deep footprint in Georgia politics. Bobby Whitworth, the former chairman of Georgia's parole board, was convicted in 2005 of influence peddling and accepting a $75,000 bribe to push the passage of SB474, the state's expansive private probation legislation. Today, nearly three-dozen private probation companies operate in more than 600 courts throughout the state.
Consequently, Georgia now ranks fourth in the U.S. in incarceration rates and, due to the exponential proliferation of private probation companies throughout the state, has by far the highest rate of adults on probation. Overall, 1 in 13 individuals in Georgia is under some form of correctional control, nearly 2 times the national average of 1 in 31.
"It is not simply unfortunate that Georgia leads the nation along these metrics, the SCHR report says, "It is something that can be changed."
The SCHR recommended to the Reform Council that "private companies carrying out criminal justice functions should not get special closed-door access to state lawmakers." Additionally, the SCHR called for "transparent investigations of cost and performance comparisons between private and public prisons and probation companies currently operating in Georgia."
"To the extent that privatized criminal justice is not saving taxpayer money over the long term; is infringing individual rights in the present; is not delivering contracted-for services; and is exacerbating problems that are best addressed through municipal solutions," the SCHR concluded, "it should be phased out of Georgia."
Source: "Roadblocks to Reform: Perils for Georgia's Criminal Justice System," Southern Center for Human Rights, November 2012; www.schr.org
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