Georgia's prison system still trying to pinch every penny

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ATLANTA - Georgia prison officials are concerned they could run out of ways to save money before the state budget stops shrinking.

First the Department of Corrections closed prisons and housed three inmates in cells built for two. Now the agency is turning out lights in its 2,200 buildings and finding other more sophisticated ways to save on its energy bills, thanks to $16.5 million in federal stimulus grants won in the spring.

With half the grant money, the agency will install meters that report to a central office if electricity usage rises above predicted levels so that unneeded lights or other equipment can be immediately turned off. The other half will go to inspecting every building to make sure all the equipment works in synchronization, said Larry Latimer, director of engineering and construction.

"You'd be surprised how often someone reversed the wires on a fan and the blades are turning the wrong way," he told the agency's board Thursday.

He anticipates savings of $4 million yearly, based on similar efforts in Missouri's system.

The department is also working with the Board of Pardons and Paroles on streamlining screening that could lead to reprieves for medical reasons. Releasing chronically ill inmates not only reduces the number incarcerated but also saves the department heavy medical costs.

All that still might not be enough, board members said. State tax collections have continued to slump, forcing the agency to deal with a growing inmate population and a budget 10 percent - or $100 million - less than its peak. And $97 million in federal "stabilization funding" runs out after next year.

Corrections board member Jim Whitehead of Augusta said he expects more cuts after he met recently with Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

"You can't ask the Board of Corrections as an entity to keep doing what we're doing if there is no way to fund it," Whitehead said.

Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said the state was already withholding 5 percent of each month's appropriations as it is this fiscal year for all agencies, but that the amount withheld was reduced to 2 percent once projections showed a severe cash-flow problem for Corrections six to seven months into the year., (404) 589-8424

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runningman1 11/06/09 - 08:51 am
The GA prison system can save

The GA prison system can save major dollars by doing away with waxing and buffing floors. Buffers cost $1000 and repairs are out of site just for parts. Inmates overload buffers by placing towels on the pad for that glass shine. Wax and pads are expensive. A simple floor sealer works fine without buffing.
Several wardens walk around every day for two to three hours inspecting inmate cells.This should be a seargents position which could do away with a warden or two. Their extra time could be focused at other cost saving ideas.

soldout 11/06/09 - 09:21 am
Get the non-violent ones

Get the non-violent ones released to some kind of work program and pay back those they stole from.

disssman 11/06/09 - 09:52 am
Put them in tents behind

Put them in tents behind barbed wire at sites on the edges of countys. And further, make the vivitor areas outdoors as well. And for gods sake get rid of all phones and tv's. But before we do anything pass a law requiring that a prosecutor who knowingly prosecutes an innocent person, will serve the same sentence as the one prosecuted.

corgimom 11/06/09 - 11:35 am
A warden, or high level

A warden, or high level official, has to inspect the prison every day, and by law, all prisoners must have reasonable access to them. The warden is responsible for everything that happens in their facility.

baronvonreich 11/06/09 - 01:45 pm
Well lets see......have an

Well lets see......have an auction to get rid of all gym equipment and televisions and cut the food budget back to beans and rice, have lights out at 8pm, etc. It isn't difficult. Run it like a prison for a change.

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