Originally created 12/31/98

No deadline on jail repair



ATLANTA -- No deadline has been set by the state Department of Corrections for Georgia's first privately owned prison to correct flaws highlighted in recent audits.

But officials of Cornell Corrections Inc., which owns D. Ray James Prison in Folkston, said Wednesday the company is moving as fast as it can to fix the problems, which include lax security procedures, "filthy" bathrooms and inadequate medical facilities.

"This has been taken to the highest level within the company and within the DOC," said Steve Logan, Cornell's senior vice president. "And the state has been pleased so far with our response."

Corrections inspectors have conducted two audits since the medium-security prison in southeast Georgia opened two months ago.

The audits are called for in the state's contract with Houston-based Cornell, which also must win accreditation from the American Correctional Association within two years.

The audits, written after inspections in November and December, cited the prison for not having an operating dental clinic, doing inaccurate head counts and having non-certified personnel patrolling the perimeter of the prison.

Mr. Logan said the problems may stem from the prison's fast start-up. D. Ray James has accepted nearly 50 prisoners a week since it opened Oct. 13 and was holding 491 prisoners Wednesday. The contract calls for a maximum of 750 state prisoners to be held at the prison, although Cornell is doubling its size in anticipation that the state will need the room.

Despite the lack of a deadline, Corrections Department spokesman Scott Stallings said the state expects Cornell to correct the problems at D. Ray James as soon as possible.

"If there are folks that need the training, we're telling Cornell to go ahead and get it," he said. "But we're nowhere near the point of even talking about pulling our prisoners. We want this to work, and this is one step in the process."

The audits show the system is working, Stallings said.

"We're identifying the problems and correcting them. This way, we are showing we still have oversight."

Two other private prisons, both owned by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, are operating in Wheeler and Coffee counties.

Spokeswoman Susan Hart said CCA has not yet received an audit from the state but will welcome the input.

"We have this kind of agreement with all of our prisons," said Hart, whose company owns and operates 80 prisons. "The important part of this is how the issues are addressed."

The three prisons eventually will house 750 medium-security state inmates each. They are Georgia's attempt to join a national movement toward privatizing prisons in the hope of lowering costs. Cornell gets $45.13 per prisoner per day, about $13 less than the state spends at its own prisons.