It’s been just under a year since a massive overhaul to Georgia’s criminal justice system took effect. The state Corrections Commissioner says jails are less crowded, but the prison population is getting more violent.
New criminal justice laws have reduced prison terms and provided alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Jail capacity in the state is 47,086 beds. Currently there are more than 11,000 empty jail beds in Georgia.
State corrections officials say in 2010 there were a thousand offenders waiting in jail to get into a half-way house. That backlog has been zeroed because fewer people are coming through the system.
That saves counties just under $11 million a year.
In March of 2011, 4 thousand inmates in county jails were waiting to come into the state prison system. Today there are just 650.
In the last two years the state had sent $51 million dollars to counties to hold those inmates.
Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens says the prison population had already been changing over the last five years. “We’ve seen the proportion of violent offenders in prison rise form 57 percent to 64 percent. And I think everybody would agree that those are the ones we want in our prison system. Those offenders who want to prey on us, who are going to be repeat, habitual offenders, violent offenders." He says " I expect the proportion of violent offenders to increase over time as the full effects of criminal justice reform take hold.”
Because the percentage of violent inmates is growing, Owens plans to increase security at nine high-level prisons. He wants to increase electronic surveillance and “harden” cells. “The more violent inmates traditionally will try to make weapons out of materials in their cell. What we’re doing is preventing them from making weapons- tamper-proof bunks, tamper-proof commodes, tamper-proof sinks. Putting very heavy duty heater covers over the heaters.”
The extra security measures will take place at state prisons in Hays, Telfair, Valdosta,Ware, Smith, Macon, Hancock, Baldwin and Augusta State Medical Prison. Owens expects the cost of the increased security will come to about $2 million for each facility.