Thursday, April 8, 2010

Georgia: Lock 'em Up at All Costs

The state of Georgia needs to cut spending to balance a budget that is woefully underfunded. This story is being told and retold in state after state as America struggles to pull out of the the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

Georgia lawmakers are considering significant reductions in education, health care and court spending. One thing that is conspicuously not on the chopping block--a soaring prison population and associated costs.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia operates the fifth-largest prison system in the nation, at a cost of $1 billion a year. The job of overseeing 60,000 inmates and 150,000 felons on probation consumes 1 of every 17 state dollars.

Some Georgia legislators are looking for alternatives to the states "lock 'em up" mentality. State Representative Chuck Martin told the Journal-Constitution, that sentencing some low-risk offenders to house arrest at night, while requiring them to work during the day, could be more effective than placing them behind bars for a year with hardened criminals. Such an approach could conserve resources to keep dangerous offenders locked up, he said, while also steering low-level offenders into more productive lives.

Georgia has capacity for 57,000 prisoners. There are over 60,000 inmates in the system. The state currently houses 2,000 state prisoners in local county jails. The Journal-Constitution reported that it costs Georgia taxpayers $4.43 a day to supervise an offender in the community. It cost $46 a day to house an offender in a state prison.

My Take

Apparently, Georgia lawmakers are willing to sacrifice the education of their children, the health of their citizens and the integrity of their court system in order to keep their "tough on crime" persona.

Even Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman and speaker of the house, recently wrote, "Georgia simply can't afford for the corrections system to maintain the status quo."

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