private prisons graphic

House Bill 403 is a bill that will ban private-owned prisons in Georgia. It was introduced by state Legislature from Atlanta, Scott Holcomb, on Feb. 20, 2019. (Graphic/Caitlin Jett)

One state legislator won’t give up the fight to shut down private prisons in Georgia.

Scott Holcomb, representative for the 81st District in Atlanta, put an announcement on Twitter in February that he planned on filing House Bill 403, a bill that will ban private-owned prisons in Georgia. His reason behind it? He said that he does not “think there should be a profit motive to incarcerate people.”

The bill was filed on Feb. 20 by Holcomb and five other state representatives, but it failed to get voted on before the 2019 legislature ended on April 2. For the 2020 legislature, Holcomb said he still plans to have a hearing for HB 403.

“We’ll see if the Chair agrees [to a hearing], and lets me make the case,” Holcomb said in an email.

The problem

Private prisons are defined as “prison facilities run by private prison corporations whose services and beds are contracted out by state governments or the Federal Bureau of Prisons),” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Private prisons house thousands of inmates across Georgia, but many public officials and activists, including a commissioner in Athens, say it's time for private prisons to end in the state.

The Georgia Department of Corrections has contracts with two prison companies: CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, and the GEO Corporation. CoreCivic operates three private prisons in Alamo, Millen and Nicholls; the GEO Corporation operates one private prison in Milledgeville.

In 2018, Georgia’s private prisons housed 7,818 inmates, according to an audit conducted by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. The audit also shows that private prisons cost Georgia $49.07 per inmate, which is more than the average $44.56 per inmate in state prisons.

Amanda Gilchrist, public affairs director at CoreCivic, a company that owns and manages private prisons, said private prisons are an “important tool that helps governments manage their corrections needs.” She went on to say that “ending contracting will lead to more overcrowding, higher costs, and less reentry programming.”

Private prisons obtain a stipend from the government, according to Investopedia, a website designed for financial education, and in most cases, the amount of the stipend depends on the number of prisoners within the prison.

Tim Denson, Athens-Clarke County District 5 commissioner, expressed support for the bill, sharing concerns that are similar to Holcomb’s.

Hillary Brown, a local action network coordinator for Athens For Everyone, said in an email that “private prisons are a great evil” because “it's morally wrong to make money off of putting people in jail.”


The facts

The American Federation of Government Employees, a federal employee union that represents employees in almost every federal department and agency, published an article about whether private prisons save Americans money. The article explains that data does not prove private prisons save money.

“Supporters of private prisons point to lower cost in facility building and inmate housing, pointing to the rampant overcrowding in the federal Bureau of Prisons as a reason for building more private institutions,” the article reads. “But the numbers just don't add up.”

The costs to run a private prison in the United States is almost the same as state-operated prisons, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The per capita price for housing inmates in private prisons was $22,159 while the per capita of state-operated prisons is $25,251, as of 2014.

The DOJ conducted a review of inmate safety and security requirements within private prisons and found “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions and that the BOP needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas.”

Incarceration rates for private prisons increased from 2000 to 2015 —federal private prisons have increased by 6.1 percent and state private prisons have increased by 1.3 percent, according to the BJS.

Compared to state and federal facilities, private prisons have a high annual percentage of incarcerations over a 16-year span.

Private prisons were created because of the almost 800% increase in the federal prison population between 1983 and 2013, according to a 2016 memorandum from Sally Yates, former United States deputy attorney general.

Employees of private prisons earn roughly $5,000 less than employees that work for government-owned prisons, according to The Sentencing Project, a research center in Washington D.C. Fewer wages result in high turnovers and a decrease in security within the prisons, according to a report from the center.

The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization whose mission it is to defend and preserve individual rights, stated that private prisons are depriving “individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story used an incorrect company name for CoreCivic. This error has since been corrected. The Red & Black regrets this error. 

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