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Roadblocks to Reform - Perils of Georgia’s Criminal Justice System, SCHR, 2012

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Roadblocks to Reform
REF
OR

Perils for Georgia’s Criminal Justice System
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Submitted to
the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council
November 2012

THE
LAW OFACE
OF 'HE -

SOUTHERN
Cllrlll

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HUMAN

RIGHTS
83 Poplar Street, NW

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Atlanta, GA 30303
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404-688-1202

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www.schr.org

Executive Summary
Georgia has the highest rate of adults under correctional control of any state in the country, and its corrections
budget reflects this fact. The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, with its mandate to investigate problems, examine best practices, and make recommendations to the legislature that will decrease the corrections budget while
prioritizing public safety, is an example of the type of thoughtful, careful attention that is required to address these
challenges. Contracting out government responsibilities of running correctional facilities and probation supervision
to private companies with little accountability, however, only worsens the problems, ultimately driving up costs while
compromising public safety.
In evaluating current practices in Georgia and making recommendations for reform, the Special Council should examine the interests of private companies in the further growth of the state’s correctional population and how they have
failed to follow through on promised cost savings and standards of quality. The Special Council should also consider
these companies’ explicit incentives against criminal justice reform aimed at lowering crime rates while curbing the
rise in incarceration rates. Finally, the Special Council should recommend common-sense reforms to cabin the perverse incentives of private companies: increasing transparency, enforcing accountability, and evaluating costs and
performance, while also ensuring respect for the constitutional rights of those facing criminal charges or serving
prison terms.
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. SCHR
has compelled county, state, and federal governments to make significant improvements in prisons and jails across
the South—to reduce overcrowding, provide adequate medical and mental health care, abate violence and abuse,
and thereby fulfill their constitutional obligations to protect the people in their custody. SCHR monitors conditions
in dozens of jails and prisons and uses litigation and advocacy to ensure compliance with constitutional standards.
SCHR presents this report to the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform Council (“Council”) and Georgia’s citizens with suggested reforms to Georgia’s current criminal justice policies. SCHR’s recommendations are based on sound practices
in other states as well as our own expertise over the last 35 years.

2

Overview
Georgia has the highest rate of adults under correctional control of any state
•	

Georgia has the fourth-highest incarceration rate

•	

Georgia is far ahead of any other state in adult probation rates

There are four private prisons in Georgia housing some 5,400 state prisoners
•	

Two of these prisons opened in the last year

•	

The other two were expanded in the last year

Private prison companies have a financial interest in sustained or increased incarceration rates
•	

The two biggest private prison companies have poured lobbying resources
and campaign contributions into the state in the last decade

•	

The proposed state budget for FY 2013 includes $35 million for 2,650 new private prison beds

•	

GDC cost analyses indicate that private prisons cost more per-inmate per-day than state-run prisons

There are 35 private probation companies in Georgia operating in over 600 courts
•	

These companies enjoy minimal oversight because of a state statute providing confidentiality for all of their information

•	

Many people are only placed on misdemeanor probation because they are too poor to pay fines at court

Common-sense reforms are possible
•	

Transparency is a prerequisite to accountability: cost and performance data should be made available and evaluated

•	

Precise contract terms and enforceable monitoring mechanisms should be implemented to define the
performance standards private companies must meet and to equip regulators to enforce those standards

•	

State actors who interact with private companies in the performance of their duties should
receive specialized training in order to increase consistency and fairness across the state

•	

As Georgia streamlines its correctional expenditures to bring costs in line with best practices, it should phase out
profit-seeking companies’ involvement in the criminal justice system because their business model is at odds
with the goal of running effective and fair criminal justice and prison systems at the lowest reasonable cost

3

I.	Introduction
	
The Southern Center for Human Rights applauds Governor Nathan Deal’s decision to reconvene the Special Council
on Criminal Justice Reform to continue the efforts undertaken last year to address Georgia’s growing incarceration
rate and corrections budget. These matters are of concern to all Georgians, not just those of us who face interactions
with the courts and the correctional system. Because they implicate the state budget as a whole and are integrally
related to public safety, they affect everyone.
The Pew Center on the States found that Georgia currently has the highest rate in the U.S. of individuals under some
form of correctional control – probation, parole, prison or jail. While the national average is 1 in 31, Georgia’s rate
is 1 in 13.1 Although Georgia ranks fourth in incarceration rates,2 it has far and away the highest rate of adults on
probation: 6,208 per 100,000.3 An estimated 53% of adults on probation in Georgia – some 244,661 people – are on
misdemeanor probation, much of which is run through the 35 private probation companies operating in the state.4
It is not simply unfortunate that Georgia leads the nation along these metrics. It is something that can be changed.
In considering ways to improve the criminal justice system in Georgia, it is essential that the Council examine the
privatization of criminal justice functions in the state. Corporations have a financial incentive to further expand the
number of people under correctional control, an incentive directly at odds with Georgia taxpayers’ interest in reducing criminal justice spending while prioritizing public safety.5
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. The Council should consider ways to cabin
the role of private companies in shaping policy, curb the growth of private criminal justice institutions that depend
on continual increase in the number of people under correctional control, and create systems of accountability to
hold private entities to their promises of greater efficiency, quality of services, and cost effectiveness, as well as their
contract terms. Moreover, the Council should encourage the state to adopt evidence-based practices and policies to
manage public safety and the state budget.
This paper discusses privatization first in a national context, where other states can offer examples of what does and
does not work. Next, the paper describes the role of private prisons and private probation in Georgia today. It sets
out criteria for evaluating both the performance of private providers currently operating in the state and the merits
of maintaining such public-private partnerships in the future. Finally, the paper offers common-sense recommendations on how to reduce the impact of improper financial incentives on Georgia’s criminal justice system and thereby
improve both the cost-efficiency and public safety outcomes of the system.

WHO’S UNDER CORRECTIONAL CONTROL?

NATIONAL
MEN AND WOMEN

GEORGIA
MEN AND WOMEN

1 IN 31

1 IN 13

4

II.	

Private Prisons in the United States

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO), the
two largest private prison operators in the United States, have become major
players in correctional policy across the United States. CCA, GEO, and a small
handful of other companies comprise the vast majority of private prison business. In 2010, there were more than 128,000 people held in private prison
facilities in the U.S. Of these, 94,365 were in private state (non-federal) facilities.6 The companies, meanwhile, reap huge profits: in 2010, CCA and GEO
Group took in nearly $3 billion in revenue.7

. . . as an increasing
amount of research
now demonstrates, the
heralded cost savings
of privatizing prisons
are largely illusory.

These companies have been successful in expanding their reach in part by promising cost savings to state and local
governments, touting efficiencies that only the private sector can provide because the public sector is overly-bureaucratic and inefficient. For many years, stakeholders thought these claims might bear out. But as an increasing amount
of research now demonstrates, the heralded cost savings of privatizing prisons are largely illusory. A 2009 analysis of
privatization studies by researchers at the University of Utah concluded that “[c]ost savings from privatization are not
guaranteed and quality of services is not improved. Across the board effect sizes were small, so small that the value
of moving to a privately managed system is questionable.”8 A recent report from New Hampshire assessing the risks
and benefits of privatization reviewed available research compiled over more than two decades and found “a clear
consensus that when all cost factors are included in the analysis, the available evidence does not support the contention that private corrections are more cost-effective or efficient than those publicly operated.”9
In specific instances, states have found that private prisons are not only failing to save money for the state, but are
actually costing more. Here in Georgia, the Department of Corrections (GDC) estimates that the cost in state funds
is $1.30 higher per inmate per day in private prisons than in state prisons.10 Elsewhere, in 2007, Florida sued CCA for
$3.6 million in excessive staffing and equipment charges, and the company eventually agreed to refund the state
$1.5 million.11 A 2012 report by the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona found that privately operated
prisons in the state are actually more costly than DOC facilities, estimating a loss to the state of $10 million from
2008-2010, and projecting a loss of $6 million per year if the state adds 2,000 new private prison beds, as it has proposed doing.12 New Mexico also reportedly overpaid by millions during a six-year period in which private prison costs
rose 57% while the inmate population increased by just 21%.13
To the extent that they cabin costs, CCA and GEO draw much of their “savings” from personnel and programming,
paying undertrained correctional officers significantly less than their public sector counterparts.14 Turnover among
staff in private prisons is also problematic. For example, in Texas in 2008, the rate of turnover among correctional
officers in the state’s seven private prisons was 90%, copared to 24% in state prisons.15 This creates an environment
in which new guards lack experienced mentors, inmate-staff tensions increase, and a culture of professionalism fails
to take root.

5

Additionally, private prison companies have little incentive to provide skills
training and other rehabilitative programming. While research comparing
recidivism rates from private and public prisons is still scarce and studies to date have been inconclusive, programming is among the costlier
elements of prison budgets.16 Prison companies have a financial incentive
to keep programming costs as low as possible, and insufficient incentive to
achieve quality benchmarks in these services. Indeed, private prison companies have a troubling financial interest in seeing released prisoners reoffend
and return to their facilities, as their SEC filings indicate (see excerpts from
annual reports below).
Cutting corners for both
inmates and staff fosters
an environment where
violence, riots, and escapes
are prone to occur.

. . . in Texas in 2008, the
rate of turnover among
correctional officers in
the state’s seven private
prisons was 90%, compared
to 24% in state prisons.

Cutting corners for both inmates and staff fosters an environment where
violence, riots, and escapes are prone to occur.17 Research has found a
“differentially high rate of violence at privately operated prisons when compared to those operated by the state.”18 In Texas in 2007, inmate-on-staff
assaults were reported to be 49% higher and inmate-on-inmate assaults 65%
higher in private facilities.19 A private prison in Ohio reported 13 stabbings,
2 murders, and 6 escapes in a 14-month period, prompting one state official
to note, “There is nothing in Ohio’s history like the violence at that prison.”20

Another method the companies use to maximize profits is contracting to house only certain types of inmates, those
who are least costly to incarcerate. This leaves state-run facilities in charge of prisoners who may have mental health
problems, costly medical conditions, or high security classifications, artificially bolstering the apparent “savings” of
private facilities versus public ones.21
Meanwhile, private prison companies maintain a major financial stake in
ensuring that more and more prison beds are built. The companies are not
responding to a public need by continuing to build their business, but rather
they are working to create that need in the interest of their shareholders.

“Privately operated facilities

Private companies have noticed that criminal justice reform efforts aimed at
reducing government correctional spending are a threat to their bottom line:

other disturbances”

•	

have a much higher rate
of inmate-on-inmate and
inmate-on-staff assaults and

CCA’s 2010 Annual Report stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely
affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed
by our criminal laws. . . . [R]eductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce
crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”22

6

•	

The GEO Group stated in a 2011 SEC filing: “Our growth depends on
our ability to secure contracts to develop and manage new correctional, detention and mental health facilities, the demand for which is
outside our control . . . . [R]eductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration
at correctional facilities.”23

In FY 2011, private prisons
cost Georgia $45.81 per
inmate per day while
state-run prisons cost
the state $44.51.

Mismanagement in private prisons has given rise to a number of lawsuits
across the country, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements and damages. A class action brought by prisoners in Ohio against CCA in 1999 settled
for $1.65 million. Ten years later, CCA reached a $1.3 million settlement with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a lawsuit alleging that male workers at a Colorado facility forced
female workers to perform sex acts to keep their jobs and retaliated against those who complained.24 In 2011, a
class action brought against CCA for its mismanagement of a facility in Idaho dubbed the “Gladiator School” led to a
comprehensive settlement agreement ordering dramatic changes in how the facility is run. One person at that facility
was viciously beaten by other inmates after warnings to guards about the impending risk went unheeded; he filed an
individual action seeking $55 million, though the terms of the final financial settlement were sealed.25
The GEO Group has likewise paid enormous sums in settlements and damages. In 2004, the company reached a
$98,000 settlement with a prisoner who prematurely gave birth at a San Antonio jail due to inadequate medical
care.26 In 2010, the Texas Court of Appeals upheld a $42.5 million verdict against the GEO Group and the warden of
one of its facilities on behalf of the family of a prisoner who was beaten to death by other inmates at the facility.27
The same year, a class action brought by prisoners at six separate GEO Group prisons regarding routine strip searches
of nonviolent, nondrug offenders settled for $2.9 million.28 In 2012, a GEO Group-run youth facility in Mississippi was
brought under federal consent decree due to the “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices” that the Justice Department reported there. These practices included sexual relations between youth and staff, beatings by staff, drug
use, and the use of chemical restraints. Following the court order, GEO quickly withdrew from all three Mississippi
facilities it was operating.29
The companies themselves acknowledge the financial implications of litigation. CCA’s 2010 Annual Report stated:
“[W]e experienced an increase in legal expenses at managed-only [privately managed but not privately owned] facilities during 2009 compared with 2008. Expenses associated with legal proceedings may fluctuate from quarter to
quarter based on new or threatened litigation, changes in our assumptions, new developments, or the effectiveness
of our litigation and settlement strategies.”30 While share prices may suffer, taxpayers shoulder the burden for costly
litigation, either directly or through increased costs for future contracts.31
The expansion of Georgia’s

The traits endemic in private prisons – poorly trained staff, inadequate
private prison sector
services, higher rates of violence and other infractions – dovetail with one
stands at odds with the
another and are mutually reinforcing. Financially, the cost savings of paying
Special Council’s objective
smaller salaries with fewer benefits, for instance, might be offset down the
of reducing Georgia’s
road by costly lawsuits stemming from poorly trained guards’ behavior. With
respect to public safety, the costs of poor prison management can be serious
prison population and
too. This situation is made even more dangerous, both financially and for the
corrections budget.
staff and people incarcerated in private prisons, by the difficulty in maintaining effective oversight. Across the country, monitoring efforts fall short of
even modest goals, and a lack of transparency that the companies encourage presents a risk that the problems and
the costs of private prisons are even greater than what research has yet shown.

7

III.	 Private Prisons in Georgia
The expansion of Georgia’s private prison sector stands at odds with the Special Council’s objective of reducing Georgia’s prison population and corrections budget. CCA and GEO have opened two prisons in Georgia in the past year,
doubling the number of private facilities with which the GDC contracts. The two already-present facilities expanded
in the last year to add more beds. (Five other facilities in Georgia owned by CCA or GEO contract with the federal
government.)
Private Prisons in Georgia
Under contract with GDC

CCA

GEO Group

Jenkins Correctional Center
(Millen): 1,150 beds
Coffee Correctional Facility
(Nicholls): 3,032 beds

Other

Riverbend Correctional
Facility (Milledgeville):
1,500 beds

Wheeler Correctional
Facility (Alamo): 3,028 beds
Under contract with
federal government

McRae Correctional
Facility (McRae): 1,524 beds

Robert A. Deyton Detention
Facility (Lovejoy): 768 beds

North Georgia
Detention Center
(Gainesville): 502 beds

D. Ray James facilities
(Folkston): Correctional
Facility: 2,507 beds; Detention Facility: 340 beds

Stewart Detention Center
(Lumpkin): 1,752 beds

Irwin County Detention
Center (Ocilla): 1,201 beds
[Municipal Corrections LLC/
Detention Mgmt LLC]32

The proposed budget for FY2013 allocates $35,274,014 to “annualize the cost of” 2,650 new private prison
beds.32However, the GDC itself found that in FY 2011, private prisons cost the state $45.81 per inmate per day while
state-run prisons cost the state $44.51.33 In other words, the state is slated to pay an additional $35 million per year
going forward, even though by its own calculations, it will pay $1,257,425 more each year for the 2,650 new beds (or
$4,132,895 more per year for the total 8,710 GDC-contracted private prisons beds).
In a sense, private prison companies are getting a return on their investment, having poured campaign contributions
and lobbying expenditures into the state for at least a decade. Georgia ranked third among US states in campaign
contributions from the largest private prison companies from 2003-2012, taking in $382,333.34 During the same period, CCA, GEO, and Cornell Companies (formerly the third-largest private prison company in the US; acquired by GEO
in 2010) employed 16 lobbyists in the state.35
While this information on CCA and GEO’s financial activity in Georgia politics is publicly accessible, oversight of the
facilities themselves is more problematic. Although GDC has embedded monitors at each private prison “overseeing
the facility’s operations to ensure that all contract conditions are met and that the facility operates with a continuous focus on sanitation, safety and security,”36 the terms of the contracts between the corporations and GDC are not
public, making it difficult for outside advocacy groups and other stakeholders to assess conditions within the prisons
or the efficacy of the GDC monitors. While the GDC notes that CCA and GEO facilities in Georgia have been accredited
by the American Correctional Association (ACA),37 the ACA’s accreditation system is based on a review of on-paper

8

policies and procedures, rather than an assessment of how those policies and
procedures are implemented and what outcomes emerge.38 This difficulty in
oversight heightens the potential for unchecked abuse. The sort of concrete
comparisons between privately and publicly run prisons necessary to inform
Georgia’s future policy and budget decisions are hard to develop where there
are so few mechanisms for oversight. This dynamic works to the benefit of
the prison companies, since once a facility is built and operational, public
agencies may feel compelled to keep it fully occupied over the long term.

Georgia is unique among
the states in the size
and scope of its private
probation system.

The problem of excessive power in the hands of private prison companies affects all Georgians and our state budget,
but its negative consequences especially threaten rural parts of the state where private prisons might be built.
This problem is complicated because the present economy is deeply troubled and unemployment is a major issue
across the state. In this environment, the promise of a couple hundred jobs can be appealing – even low-paying,
dangerous jobs like being a poorly trained employee in a private prison earning meager pay. But rural communities
that place their economic hopes in prisons are likely to be disappointed.39
Towns like Littlefield, Texas,40 and Hardin, Montana,41 have been all but completely devastated after pouring scant
municipal resources into private prison contracts, only to have the promised facilities never open. The towns are left
deep in debt, their economic prospects even more grim, while the private prison companies pull up stakes to seek
more lucrative contracts elsewhere. With each expansion of private prisons – especially as the state deliberately
seeks to reduce its prison population – we risk this happening in Georgia too.
42

Already, one privatized jail in the state that contracts with the federal government, the Irwin County Detention
Center in Ocilla, has found itself in dire financial straits as ongoing empty beds have forced it into bankruptcy proceedings and efforts to bring in federal detainees from out of state have been stymied.42 That facility is owned and
operated by two small companies with little political clout, Municipal Corrections and Detention Management LLC.
With powerful companies like CCA and GEO, in contrast, Georgia runs the risk of having its correctional policy be
driven by the financial need to incarcerate rather than sound policies regarding punishment and sentencing. Either
way, long-term economic development in rural parts of the state will be difficult.
These towns’ stories are not unique instances of failure in otherwise successful ventures. In fact, CCA reported a
1.3% decline in state revenues from 2009 to 2010.43 The company reported a 4.8% increase in federal contracts over
the same period, but to the extent that state-level business is declining, it is not in Georgia’s interest to try to uphold
or grow it at the expense of implementing evidence-based best practices regarding crime control, punishment, and
sentencing.

9

IV.	

Private Probation in Georgia

Improper financial incentives affect not just the number of prison beds in Georgia, but other aspects of the criminal
justice system as well, especially in the area of misdemeanor probation. Georgia is unique among the states in the
size and scope of its private probation system. This industry has operated at the margins of the law since its inception. Former Chairman of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Bobby Whitworth was convicted of influence
peddling and accepting a $75,000 bribe for his role in passing S.B. 474, the private probation legislation.44 Former
Representative Clay Cox, who was both a state legislator and owner of one of the largest private probation companies in Georgia, Professional Probation Services, proposed a bill in 2009 to abolish the small probation oversight
body, the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council (CMPAC).45 Given these circumstances – at best conflicting and at worst corrupt – this Council should recommend reforms to the private probation industry in the state. In
this context, increased transparency is a prerequisite to accountability for the infringement of rights.
There are currently 35 private probation companies operating in over 600 courts throughout the state.46 Some have
as few as one employee and operate in just one county, while others are comparatively massive. Sentinel Offender
Services LLC, for example, has 79 contracts with Georgia Courts. According to the Private Probation Association of
Georgia, a membership professional organization to which about half of the 35 private probation companies belong,
as of fiscal year 2008 there more than 254,000 people on private probation.47 Private probation companies charge
these individuals some $30-45 per month in supervision fees. With the recent passage of many of this Council’s legislative recommendations, reclassifying some low-level crimes as misdemeanors, the number of people on private
probation stands to grow.
Courts may have specific reasons to want to contract out the work of collecting court fines, but the industry as it exists today enjoys very little oversight. The lack of transparency and consistency across courts contributes to the fact
that, in large part, this industry makes money off the backs of poor people – those that are not financially able to pay
their fines in full on the day they appear in court – and avoids accountability. In courts across the state that contract
with private probation companies, there exists a striking lack of consistency, and a lack of uniformity even within
specific courts, regarding whether and how indigency determinations are made before a person is put into private
probation, and how the terms of probation are altered (if at all) when the person is indigent.48 These responsibilities
do not clearly reside with either the courts or the probation companies, and in many instances are taken up by neither. People placed on probation, meanwhile, are informed of the monthly sum they are ordered to pay, but seldom
have awareness of their rights regarding inability to pay and the threat of jail.
The lack of transparency within the system is directly a result of statute. O.C.G.A. § 42-8-106 “declare[s] . . . confidential” “[a]ll reports, files, records, and papers of whatever kind relative to the supervision of probationers
by a private corporation. . . .” O.C.G.A. § 42-8-101(e)(8) states that the annual report that CMPAC sends to the
legislature “shall not contain information identifying individual private corporations . . . or their contracts.” This lack
of transparency makes it difficult to identify problem companies as well as situations where individuals’ rights are
being infringed.

10

The “offender-funded” model that dominates the private probation industry
in Georgia fails to adequately consider the indigency of many probationers
and in essence piles on the punishment meted out by the courts by wringing additional meager dollars, including from people whose only reason for
being on probation is that they were too poor to pay their court fees up front.
In some cases, people are sent to jail as a result of their inability to pay their
monthly private probation fees in full.49

V.	

Georgia is unique among
the states in the size
and scope of its private
probation system.

Accountability for private prisons & private probation

Privatization has not demonstrated significant benefits to the state of Georgia, and has arguably hurt many citizens
to the extent that it ramps up criminal punishment for the financial gain of company shareholders. Georgians should
be able meaningfully and carefully to compare the services they are receiving from private companies to those that
are administered by the state and its municipalities, and evaluate whether policies that serve private interests are
actually benefitting the state.
The first step is oversight. Private companies carrying out criminal justice functions should not get special closeddoor access to state lawmakers. Plans to expand Georgia’s prison population should not be developed in secret and
presented to the public only when they are inexorably under way. Private probation records should not be “declared
confidential.” Those secrecy provisions should be repealed.
Next, there should be transparent investigations of cost and performance comparisons between private and public prisons and probation companies currently operating in Georgia. The Council should use its power to examine
contracts between GDC and CCA and GEO to learn what standards are in place, and use this information to evaluate
whether privatized criminal justice is functioning appropriately. To the extent that there are future Requests for Proposals regarding new private prison beds, this Council should insist on transparent processes, specificity in contract
terms, and effective accountability mechanisms in any future agreements.
But it should also develop a plan to draw down the number of private prison beds in the state as criminal justice
reforms are implemented and the prison population begins to decline. Georgia over-relies on incarceration as a
response to crime. Relying on private prisons to provide more and more prison beds reduces the state’s ability to
implement evidence-based reforms to reduce crime. In order to curtail this reliance, the Council should recommend that the state legislature:
•	

Revise the policies that drove up Georgia’s prison population, including mandatory minimum
sentences and the denial of discretion to sentencing judges; truth in sentencing and the curtailment of good-time credit; and sentence enhancements.

•	

Refocus on the rehabilitative potential of incarceration through evidence-based initiatives that
drive down recidivism: skills training; reentry resources (that do not charge poor people infeasible sums); and the removal of obstacles to employment, housing, and other essentials.

•	

Craft more detailed contracts when agreements with private prison companies are renewed,
establishing minimum standards for staff qualifications that meet or exceed state standards.

11

•	

Develop penalties that punish poor performance by prison companies in a way that spurs changes in their behavior and practices,
specify these penalties in future contracts, and provide enough
transparency for state lawmakers and outside groups to investigate the prison companies’ performance of contract terms.

These sorts of changes may not come cheap. In fact, bolstering minimum standards and implementing effective oversight could drive up the costs to CCA
and GEO of running prisons in Georgia. That would be all the more reason to
question the wisdom of continuing to allow private prisons to operate in the
state. It is not a reason to allow the companies to shirk constitutional standards.

. . . people are sent
to jail as a result of
their inability to pay
their monthly private
probation fees in full.

Similarly, as Georgia’s private probation industry faces a possible expansion because of this Council’s 2011 reforms,
the Council has an opportunity to implement much-needed changes to the system as it already exists. SCHR urges
the Special Council to consider implementing the following recommendations in the interest of fiscal responsibility and fairness to Georgians:
•	 Provide training about indigency determinations and respective responsibilities of the courts,
the probation companies, and individuals under probation supervision, to judges who preside
over misdemeanor adjudications.
•	 Create a statutory provision governing how indigency determinations are made in courts
throughout the state. For instance, some conditions (receipt of public assistance, Social Security income or food stamps, e.g.) should constitute prima facie evidence of indigency. Indigent
people should not be placed on probation for their inability to pay fines. Where they are placed
on probation for other reasons, they should be exempted from supervision fees.
•	 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.43
•	 Allow non-indigent misdemeanor defendants a window of 30 days to pay fines and fees they
owe the courts. It is wasteful to force people into probation for a reason as arbitrary as not having hundreds of dollars with them on the day they appear in court. Though some courts may
choose to give defendants a short window of time to gather funds, there is little consistency in
this practice throughout the state.
•	 Require that at least 50% of each probation payment go towards the original fine and cap
monthly supervision fees. Companies should not be paying themselves at the expense of paying the courts.
•	 Reinstate yearly registration fees for Georgia’s private probation companies in order to provide
CMPAC with necessary funds. CMPAC itself recognizes the need for better training among private probation officers. It has cited the need for training in its annual reports to the legislature,
at the front end and on a continuing basis, and has sought to implement it, but lacks the funding to adequately maintain a training regime that would prevent, among other problems, the
“illegal arrest of citizens.”44

12

The Council should address the serious oversight deficiencies within the industry as well. Most importantly, the secrecy provisions in O.C.G.A. §§ 42-8-101(e)(8) and 42-8-106 should be repealed. Individuals’ probation information,
which is part of their public court records, should not be concealed as business secrets. The existing statutory provisions do little besides providing cover to private probation companies to operate with almost no oversight.
Another straightforward means to make the system more fair and functional is to disseminate a list of probationers’
rights and responsibilities. SCHR has observed that many of the problems people face with private probation companies stem from a lack of information. This list could be posted in every private probation office and distributed
to people in court as they enter the probation system as well as at initial supervision appointments. The list could
include, for example, that people on probation are responsible for fulfilling all probation requirements; must report
to all probation supervision appointments; must make all scheduled payments in full when able to do so; and must
keep probation officers informed of their current address. Probation officers, in turn, should provide probationers
with itemized receipts for payments made; may not threaten probationers with jail time for inability to pay monthly
balance in full; and may not issue an arrest warrant solely for a probationer’s inability to pay a monthly balance.
Providing clarity and concreteness on these points will go a long way to reducing confusion and wasted resources in
Georgia’s misdemeanor probation system.

13

VI.	Conclusion
The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform is uniquely capable of investigating, evaluating, and reshaping
Georgia’s criminal justice policies. In performing its duties, the Council will be remiss if it does not examine the
role of corporate interests and improper financial incentives in expanding the size and scope of our criminal justice system. Likewise, the Council should consider evidence-based reforms that lessen the influence of private
interests in the ongoing expansion of that system. It should seek to reduce Georgia’s incarcerated population
as well as private companies’ stake in the state’s policies – two objectives that not only go hand in hand, but in
fact are interdependent. To the extent that privatized criminal justice is not saving taxpayer money over the
long term; is infringing individual rights in the present; is not delivering contracted-for services; and is exacerbating problems that are best addressed through municipal solutions, it should be phased out of Georgia.

14

Endnotes
1

ONE IN 31: THE LONG REACH OF AMERICAN CORRECTIONS 45, Pew Center on the States, March 2009.

2

ONE IN 31, at 43. According to the Pew Center on the States, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, and Mississippi had higher rates of adult incarceration (prison and jail) than did Georgia as of 2007, although Georgia’s rate was nearly identical to Mississippi’s: 1 in 70 versus 1 in 69 (while
DC’s rate was 1 in 50).
3

PROBATION AND PAROLE IN THE UNITED STATES, 2010, Bureau of Justice Statistics, at 30. Idaho is next-highest with 4,602 probationers per
100,000 adults, followed by Rhode Island with 3,010.
4

PROBATION AND PAROLE IN THE UNITED STATES, at 37. While it is publicly known that 35 private probation companies operate in over 600
Georgia courts, the number of people on private versus municipal misdemeanor probation is not known. The Private Probation Association of
Georgia, however, estimates the number of people on private probation in Georgia to be 254,000 as of 2008.
5

See Section II, Private Prisons in the United States.

Christopher Hartney & Caroline Glesmann, Prison Bed Profiteers: How Corporations Are Reshaping Criminal Justice in the U.S., National Council
on Crime and Delinquency, May 2012, at 5.
6

Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, Justice Policy Institute,
June 2011, at 6-8.
7

Brad Lundahl et al., Prison Privatization: A Meta-Analysis of Cost and Quality of Confinement Indicators, 19(4) Research on Social Work Practice
383 (2009). A 2012 analysis of private prison costs in Arizona by the American Friends Service Committee found that, between 2008 and 2010,
the state overpaid private prison companies by an estimated $10 million as compared with state-operated prisons.
8

Elaine Rizzo, Ph.D., and Margaret Hayes, Ph.D., RN, An Assessment of the Risks and Benefits of Prison Privatization, Prepared for the Citizens’
Advisory Board of the New Hampshire State Prison for Women, Jan. 30, 2012, at 2.
9

Georgia Department of Corrections FY2011 Allocation of Cost to Inmates, Probationers, Etc., Feb. 28, 2012, available at http://www.dcor.state.
ga.us/pdf/CorrectionsCosts.pdf.
10

Associated Press, State Settles Financial Dispute with Private Prison Company, Dec. 12, 2007, available at http://jacksonville.com/apnews/
stories/121207/D8TG53JO0.shtml.
11

Report Reveals Widespread Problems in Arizona’s Private Prisons: Cites Safety Issues, Lack of Accountability, and Cost, American Friends Service Committee, Feb. 8, 2012, at 1.
12

Associated Press, N.M. Pays More For Private Prisons, Report Says, May 24, 2007, available at http://www.abqtrib.com/news/2007/may/24/
nm-pays-more-private-prisons-report-says/.
13

14

Staff turnover rates in private prisons have been as high as four times those in public facilities in recent years. Average turnover rates for state
CO’s in 1999 were 16% in public facilities and 53% in private ones. Joshua Miller, Worker Rights in Private Prisons, in Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights at 142, Andrew Coyle et al. eds., 2003. The rates in 2002 were nearly identical. Nick Hudson, High Turnover and
Unique Security Problems Created by Private Prisons, 2009, available at http://www.grassrootsleadership.org/_publications/CPJ_Second_Ed.pdf.
15

Rizzo & Hayes, at 7.

16

See, e.g., Cody Mason, Too Good to Be True: Private Prisons in America, The Sentencing Project, January 2012, at 10.

17

A study by the Department of Justice found that “privately operated facilities have a much higher rate of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-onstaff assaults and other disturbances,” while a Bureau of Prisons study found that private prisons “had much higher escape rates from secure
institutions, and much higher random drug hit rates” than public counterparts. James Austin & Garry Coventry, Bureau of Justice Assistance,
Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons at 52 (2001); Scott D. Camp & Gerald G. Gaes, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Growth and Quality of U.S. Private Prisons: Evidence from a National Survey 9 (2001).
18

Rizzo & Hayes, at 6.

19

Id.

15

20

Id.

21

Id., at 3.

22

Corrections Corporation of America, 2010 Annual Report on Form 10-K, at 19-20 (2010).

23

The GEO Group, Inc., Form 10-K Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ended January 2, 2011 at 33 (2011).

Associated Press, Private Prison Reaches $1.3M Settlement with EEOC, Oct. 15, 2009, available at http://articles.boston.com/2009-10-15/
news/29260730_1_private-prison-female-officer-settlement.
24

Rebecca Boone, Idaho Inmates Settle Lawsuit over Prison Violence, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Sept. 20, 2011, available at http://www.businessweek.
com/ap/financialnews/D9PSH4DG0.htm.
25

26

Guillermo Contreras, Former Inmate to Collect $98,000, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, Aug. 12, 2004, at B-03.

Associated Press, Family of Slain Texas Inmate Reaches Settlement, Jan. 8, 2010, available at http://www.raymondvillechroniclenews.com/
news/2010-01-13/News/Family_of_slain_Texas_inmate_reaches_settlement.html. Note: the court upheld the civil verdict of $42.5 million, but
GEO Group settled with the family for an undisclosed amount.
27

28

Alex Rose, Settlement Reached in Strip-Search Lawsuit, DELAWARE COUNTY DAILY TIMES, May 21, 2010.

John Burnett, Miss. Prison Operator Out; Facility Called A ‘Cesspool’, NPR, Apr. 24, 2012, available at http://www.npr.
org/2012/04/24/151276620/firm-leaves-miss-after-its-prison-is-called-cesspool.
29

30

Corrections Corporation of America, 2010 Annual Report on Form 10-K, at 53 (2010).

31

Gaming the System, at 33.

Jeremy Redmon, “ICE Detention Center Struggling Financially,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Apr. 23, 2012, available at http://www.ajc.com/
news/ice-detention-center-struggling-142001.html.
32

33

Governor Nathan Deal & Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, The Governor’s Budget Report: Fiscal Year 2013, at 152.

Georgia Department of Corrections FY2011 Allocation of Cost to Inmates, Probationaers, Etc., Feb 28, 2012, available at http://www.dcor.
state.ga.us/pdf/CorrectionsCosts.pdf.
34

35

National Institute on Money in State Politics, “Lobbyist Link – Corrections Corp. of America: Lobbying and Contributions from 2003 to 2012,”
available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=100552&y=All&s=GA#llink; National Institute on Money in State
Politics, “Lobbyist Link – GEO Group: Lobbying and Contributions from 2003 to 2011,” available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/
lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=100516&y=All&s=GA#llink; National Institute on Money in State Politics, “Lobbyist Link – Cornell Companies: Lobbying
and Contributions from 2008 to 2010,” available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=103304&y=All&s=GA#lli
nk.
36

National Institute on Money in State Politics, “Lobbyist Link – Corrections Corp. of America: Lobbying and Contributions from 2003 to 2011,”
available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=100552&y=All&s=GA#llink; National Institute on Money in State
Politics, “Lobbyist Link – GEO Group: Lobbying and Contributions from 2003 to 2011,” available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/
lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=100516&y=All&s=GA#llink; National Institute on Money in State Politics, “Lobbyist Link – Cornell Companies: Lobbying
and Contributions from 2008 to 2010,” available at http://www.followthemoney.org/database/lobbyistclient.phtml?lc=103304&y=All&s=GA#lli
nk.
Georgia Department of Corrections, Private Prisons, accessed July 26, 2012, http://www.dcor.state.ga.us/Divisions/Corrections/PrivatePrisons.html.
37

38

Id.

39

Hartney & Glesmann, at 24.

See, e.g., Terry L. Besser & Margaret M. Hanson, Development of Last Resort: The Impact of New State Prisons on Small Town Economies in
the United States, 35 Journal of the Community Development Society, 2004 (finding that “new state prison towns experienced less growth than
non-prison towns except that prison towns had a greater increase in unemployment [and] poverty. . .” and concluding that “[t]he assumption
that prisons represent a solution to distressed small town economies and a boost for community development should be reexamined by community leaders”).
40

16

41

“In 2000, the town of Littlefield, Texas borrowed $10 million to build a prison that would be operated by The GEO Group and filled with contract beds from Idaho and Wyoming. But, given [its] ongoing state budget crisis, Idaho removed all out-of-state prison contracts and the prison
is now empty. GEO abandoned the prison too, which is now for sale or contract. As of early 2011, Littlefield was paying $65,000 per month
against the original loan for construction.” Gaming the System, at 33.
42

“In Hardin, Montana the city entered into a deal with a group of private investors to finance the construction of a private prison in 2006.
The idea behind footing the bill for the prison was that opening such a facility would bring jobs and revenue to the small town of 3,600 people.
However, since construction was completed in 2007 the facility has remained vacant, leading to a technical default on $27.4 million in revenue
bonds, further devastating the town’s economic development prospects.” Gaming the System, at 33. See also Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, American Civil Liberties Union, Nov. 2011, at 22-23 (providing a more complete description of the Hardin story).
43

Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville, “How One Georgia Town Gambled Its Future on Immigration Detention,” THE NATION, Apr. 10,
2012, available at http://www.thenation.com/article/167312/how-one-georgia-town-gambled-its-future-immigration-detention#.
44

Corrections Corporation of America, 2010 Annual Report on Form: 10-K, at 10(2010).

45

Whitworth v. State, 622 S.E.2d 21, 23-24 (2005).

Cameron McWhirter & Bill Rankin, Lawmaker Writes Bill That Affects Own Private Probation Industry, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION,
Mar. 11, 2009. The bill was subsequently withdrawn.
46

47

County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council, Private Probation Providers Approved to Provide Services to the Courts of Georgia,
June 5, 2012, available at http://w2.georgiacourts.org/cmpac/files/2012-2013%20WEB%20REGISTRY%20PRIVATE%2006052012.doc.
48

Private Probation Association of Georgia, Current Facts about the Private Probation Industry in Georgia (FY 2008).

49

Based on observations of Southern Center for Human Rights staff in various Georiga courts, 2011-2012, on file. O.C.G.A. § 42-8-102(b)(8) provides that contracts between courts and probation companies must state “[p]rocedures for handling indigent offenders to ensure placement
of such indigent offenders irrespective of the ability to pay,” but the Code does not stipulate how the threshold determination is to be made of
whether someone is indigent.
50

See, e.g., Carlos Campos, “Poverty Keeps Woman Jailed, Lawsuit Says; Day Job Off-Site Not Enough for Expenses and $75 Fine,” ATLANTA
JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, Sept. 19, 2006, at B1; Sandy Hodson, “Critics Say Private Probation Punishes Poor Unfairly,” AUGUSTA CHRONICLE,
Nov. 15, 2009, available at http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2009/11/15/met_555844.shtml; Sandy Hodson, “Attorneys Challenge Legality
of Private Probation,” AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, Jan. 26, 2010, available at http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2010/01/26/met_564699.shtml;
see also PROFITING FROM THE POOR: A REPORT ON PREDATORY PROBATION COMPANIES IN GEORGIA, Southern Center for Human Rights, July
2008, available at http://www.schr.org/node/52. This practice has also been observed by Southern Center for Human Rights staff in various
Georgia courts in 2011-2012; information on file.
51

Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983).

52

County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council, FY2008 Biennial Report to the Legislature, O.C.G.A. § 42-8-102(d), at 3.

17

 

 

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