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Advocates: Kemp should stop mass incarceration in Georgia, not invest in prisons

(The Center Square) – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars more on state prisons over the next two years, but human rights advocates said Wednesday it is a faulty investment.

Among the new expenses in Kemp’s state budget proposal is a $600 million plan to buy a newer prison and construct a 3,000-bed facility to house medium and high-security prisoners. The governor said it would save the state money in the long run.

“These investments will allow us to close four of our older and most dangerous facilities, saving the state operational costs in the future while providing safer environments for our correctional officers,” Kemp said last week during his annual state of state address.

The Georgia Department of Corrections’ fiscal year 2022 budget is $1.1 billion. Kemp’s proposal calls for amending it to $1.2 billion this year and increasing it to $1.26 billion in fiscal year 2023.

Appropriations leaders must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Appropriations leaders are considering Kemp’s proposal in their plans, which calls for spending $3 billion more than previously proposed over the two years.

Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward told appropriations leaders Wednesday the restructuring plan is needed because the prison system’s infrastructure was not designed to hold as many violent offenders as it does now, especially with long sentences. Ward said 73% of the 45,551 inmates in the state’s 35 prisons are there because of violent offenses.

Human rights advocates, however, said instead of spending more money on new prisons, the state should be funding preventative resources. Georgia also has 12 transition centers and 11 substance abuse treatment centers, Ward said.

“Georgia already incarcerates people at an astronomical rate. If our state were a country, we would be the fourth-most incarcerated on the planet,” Southern Center for Human Rights Communications Director Hannah Riley said. “We acknowledge it is unacceptable to subject people to crumbling and unsafe prisons and know that building new prisons without stemming the flow of people into them cannot solve the problem. We must end mass incarceration in our state and invest in services and care.”

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections’ latest report, it cost the state $24,032 to house each inmate in 2019.

The governor also has proposed spending $23.8 million in the current fiscal year to replace radio communications systems and $5.5 million for wireless infrastructure upgrades at all prisons.

In fiscal year 2023, Kemp has recommended spending $7.2 million for personnel services and operating costs to establish a regional transportation hub system.

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square

The Georgia Virtue
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