Southern Center asks criminal justice council to avoid private prisons
4:36 pm, November 12th, 2012
The governor’s criminal justice reform council will meet Tuesday in Forsyth to discuss policy changes that it may recommend to the state Legislature in a few months.
The council, whose membership the governor expanded from 13 to 21 after the 2012 legislative session and the passage of House Bill 1176, is now focused on reducing youth recidivism in hopes that it will stem the number of adult offenders and decrease the state’s corrections costs. HB 1176 created a statewide system of accountability courts, increased the felony threshold for certain non-violent crimes such as shoplifting and reduced penalties for non-violent, drug-related crimes.
Previous meetings of the council focused on examining the problems of the juvenile justice system, namely that Georgia spends more than $90,000 per bed annually for secure youth residential facilities and that the three-year recidivism rate for youth at these facilities is 65 percent.
Meanwhile, the public interest law firm Southern Center for Human Rights is urging the criminal justice reform council to steer away from policies that may bolster private prison and probation industries.
In a report released Monday, the Southern Center contends that for-profit prison and probation companies actually cost taxpayers more per inmate than prisons and probation run by the government, present more dangerous conditions because they hire lower-paid, less-experienced guards and operate without public oversight because their records are exempt from open government laws.
The center also is urging the council to consider revising mandatory minimum sentences to give judges more discretion, enhancing rehabilitation programs, creating penalties for poor performing private prisons and establishing standards for how indigent probationers are handled by private probation programs so that they won’t be incarcerated for failure to pay fines
unless the court determines the failure is willful.