The state of Georgia has earmarked education for prisoners as a top budget priority on two fronts – by enrolling more inmates in GED certificate programs and also by creating new job skills training to help prisoners find work once they are released.
In a January 19 appearance before the Joint Appropriations Committee of the Georgia state legislature, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, now halfway through his second four-year term, outlined his plans to add almost $5.7 million to the budget in order to expand educational opportunities in the state’s jails and prisons.
Gov. Deal was first elected to Congress as a Democrat but became a Republican in his later terms on Capitol Hill. After being elected governor, in his first term he emphasized criminal justice reform, including authorizing alternatives to imprisonment like specialty courts for veterans or juvenile offenders, or persons facing DUI or drug use charges.
A long-time supporter of prison education, Deal included in his budget last year funds to create charter schools at two state prisons, aiming to enable inmates to obtain high school degrees as an academic alternative to GED certificates or job training programs. After a successful pilot program at the Mountain Education Charter School at a women’s prison in northern Georgia, last September the state opened the Burruss Correctional Training Center at a mid-state men’s prison.
About 250 educators and staff have already been hired to help build a statewide network of prison education programs, to be known as the Foothills Charter High School; this year’s budget would fund almost 50 more positions for prison education.
In his remarks to the Georgia appropriators, Deal supported his budget proposal by arguing that equipping inmates with education and job skills while they are in state jails and prisons would significantly cut the likelihood they would re-offend after their release. So, he maintained, prison education made sense, so ex-offenders would “have something to offer” prospective employers. (Deal has already signed a “ban the box” order for most state agency positions.)
The governor’s specific proposals would add $4.3 million for current GED and job-skills education, and plus another correctional education initiative: earmarking $1.3 million more for Georgia counties to work with the state’s technical colleges to set up job-skills training in local jails.
Deal noted some counties had already begun work on such plans, which would bring short-term offenders the same type of job training programs that longer-term inmates can find in state prisons, and urged the state government ought to “show… some good faith” to such efforts.
Other prison-system related spending requests from the Deal administration’s latest budget include $13.7 million to renovate Atlanta’s closed Metro State Prison as a re-entry facility to prepare prisoners for release and $6.3 million for equip state prisons for a higher proportion of violent offenders, due to lower numbers of non-violent offenders given prison sentences. Another part of the governor’s proposed budget would devote $5.7 million to create a behavioral health crisis center to bring quicker treatment for those with mental health issues.
The governor may face opposition to at least some of his prison spending proposals from legislators claiming the state cannot afford those outlays. But the governor argues his reforms could cut the state’s historic 30%-plus recidivism rate, and thus trim corrections system costs.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com