Last year, Governor Deal convened a Criminal Justice Reform Council to recommend ways to make our prisons less costly and better performing. That council produced this report detailing some of the problems with the system:
“During the past two decades, the prison population in Georgia has more than doubled to nearly 56,000 inmates. As a result, Georgia has one of the highest proportions of adult residents under correctional control. This growth has come at a substantial cost to Georgia’s taxpayers. Today the state spends more than $1 billion annually on corrections, up from $492 million in FY 1990. Yet despite this growth in prison, Georgia taxpayers haven’t received a better public safety return on their corrections dollars: the recidivism rate has remained unchanged at nearly 30 percent throughout the past decade. If current policies remain in place, analysis indicates that Georgia’s prison population will rise by another 8 percent to reach nearly 60,000 inmates by 2016,” presenting the state with the need to spend an additional $264 million to expand capacity.”
That spawned last year’s bill which should save Georgia nearly $300 million in costs by directing drug and property offenders to rehab instead of jail. So far, so good, right?
In the continuing effort to reach the goals above 1) reducing costs and 2) lowering recidivism, the Council will make recommendations about the management of the prison system. The Southern Center for Human Rights, who essentially has the job of looking out for those who society tends to neglect, wants you to know that road is not the smooth asphalt to Efficiencyville we are led to believe, it is more of a rutted, muddy track that leads into parts unknown.
SCHR Report Warns Criminal Justice Reform Council About Privatization Perils
Roadblocks to Reform presented to Governor Deal and Criminal Justice Reform Council
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a report today that makes recommendations to Governor Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council for necessary examination of the privatization of criminal justice functions in the state. This report, Roadblocks to Reform: Privatization Perils for Georgia’s Criminal Justice System has been submitted to members of the Council as well as Georgia criminal justice stakeholders, and is available online at www.schr.org.
As Georgia streamlines its correctional expenditures to bring costs in line with best practices, it should resist buying into the myth of privatization and phase out profit-seeking companies’ involvement in the criminal justice system. SCHR’s report reveals that the profit-based business model is at odds with the goal of running effective and fair criminal justice and prison systems at the lowest reasonable cost.
“The profit motive is fundamentally at odds with Georgia’s criminal justice reform goals,” said Southern Center for Human Rights Executive Director, Sara Totonchi. “Contracting out government responsibilities of running correctional facilities and probation supervision to private companies with little accountability exacerbates Georgia’s challenges problems and stands at odds with the Special Council’s objective or reducing our prison population and corrections budget.”
Research into the performance of private entities in the criminal justice system shows that cost savings do not materialize, and purported efficiencies come at the expense of public safety. Some common problems with privatization include:
- Private prison companies have a financial interest in sustained or increased incarceration rates. The proposed state budget for FY 2013 includes $35 million for 2, 650 new private prison beds despite Georgia Department of Corrections cost analyses that indicates private prisons cost more than state-run prisons;
- There is very little accountability and oversight. There are 35 private probation companies in Georgia operating in over 600 courts that enjoy minimal oversight because of a state statue that excludes them from open records requests;
- Nationwide, privately operated facilities have a significantly higher rate of violence and struggle with a variety of other disturbances; and
- Mismanagement in private prisons has given rise to a number of lawsuits across the country, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements and damages. Just this month, an Augusta woman filed suit against private probation company,Sentinel Offender Services, for allegedly giving false information to a judge to secure a warrant for her arrest.
The report describes privatization in the national context, the role of private prisons and private probation in Georgia today, offers evidence based research and recommendations for policy changes, including:
- Revise the policies that continue to drive Georgia’s prison population, including mandatory minimum sentences;
- Refocus on the rehabilitative potential of incarceration through evidence-based programs that are proven to drive down recidivism;
- Develop penalties that punish poor performance by prison companies in a way that spurs changes in their behavior and practices; and
- Create a provision for how indigent probationers are handled while under private probation supervision that strictly limits supervision fees, encourages community service alternatives to payment, and enforces the U.S. Supreme Court’s requirement that no one be imprisoned for failure to pay a fine or fee unless the court determines that the failure is willful.
It has been extensively reported that Georgia boasts the highest rate of correctional control in the nation, with one of every thirteen people being behind bars or on probation or parole. The current economic climate has provided an opportunity for revisiting expensive and ineffective polices that do not contribute to public safety; in some situations even perpetuate the incarceration cycle, and erect barriers for successful reentry into society.
Founded in 1976, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to enforcing the civil and human rights of people involved in the criminal justice system in Georgia and Alabama.
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