Georgia Criminal Legal System Budget Guide for the 2024 State Fiscal Year

Budget of the Georgian Ministry of Corrections

The budget of the Department of Corrections (GDC) of Georgia for the financial year (FY) 2024 is US$1.33 billion. The GDC oversees all aspects of the state prison system, including contracts run by private prisons. The majority of the department’s workforce are correctional officers. GDC correctional facility employees have higher turnover than the average for the state of Georgia, which recently exceeded an all-time high of over 25 percent but was generally below 30 percent. In comparison, GDC correctional officer turnover rates ranged from 35 percent in fiscal 2018 to 57 percent in fiscal 2021, and then 48 percent in fiscal 2022.

Legislation passed in 2023 further increased funding for incarceration, including salary increases aimed at staff retention, making fiscal 2024 the second consecutive year of an increase in prison spending. In contrast, the pre-2020 bills aimed to reverse the rising incarceration trend, and the 2020 and 2021 bills aimed for better cost-efficiency and better post-incarceration outcomes.

GDC’s fiscal 2024 spending is $48 million higher than fiscal 2023 spending and more than $200 million higher than fiscal 2022 spending. These increased investments in correctional facilities, which include expansion owned by prison infrastructure at the state and county levels cannot eliminate persistent economic inequalities between race and ethnicity. It also perpetuates spending imbalances in the state’s criminal justice system and further weakens its due process functions. Collectively, these spending decisions exacerbate the damaging effects of mass incarceration.

Despite hundreds of millions in new spending, GDC is sticking to the increased commission rates introduced in FY2020 and FY2021. These higher costs make it difficult for detained Georgians to access basic needs and put a greater economic burden on those who support them.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Georgia’s incarceration rate, which includes those in jails and prisons and on parole and probation, is 2.5 times the national average. Georgia also has a governmental legal framework that has allowed at least 26 municipalities to exploit their criminal justice systems through abusive fine and fee practices that violently deprive Georgians living in poverty of wealth, at a rate at least 20 times greater than the national average. As a result, Georgians living in poverty and embroiled in fine and fee debt often end up on probation or imprisonment, contributing to Georgia’s record-breaking prison scrutiny.

Accelerating government GDC spending in recent years, coupled with the state’s general failure to monitor revenue from fines and fees and to protect Georgians from instances of local government fine and fee abuse, represent both overinvestment and underinvestment state funds.

These two contrasting realities are ultimately the reason for the record number of detentions in Georgia. They create a vicious cycle of imprisoning people of color and imprisoning them in exorbitant local penalties determined by the fines and fee revenue they generate. Economically weak places are more dependent on this income. These accumulated sentences can eventually lead to an individual being incarcerated in a GDC facility, fueling GDC population and program growth and triggering more government investment in GDC itself. Georgia needs to break this cycle and allocate more government funding to provide equitable support to local governments, particularly its court systems, with funding directed through a mechanism such as a government opportunity weight for K-12 school districts and more funding for geographic areas with higher poverty rates to be provided .

The state has already shown a willingness to intervene in criminal justice systems locally, and unfortunately is doing so in ways that lead to mass incarceration and racial inequality. For example, recent initiatives at the state level have included removing the discretionary powers of local law enforcement and prosecutors, which the state sees as “soft” on crime, which ultimately led to harsher penalties such as stacking fees, paid probation only, and jail time. These factors further exacerbate the expansion of the criminal justice system and increase government spending on the GDC.