published Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Georgia: Lawmaker says budget cuts impact prison safety

by Jake Armstrong

ATLANTA — Budget cuts in the Georgia Department of Corrections touched off concerns today about prison safety, notably with one lawmaker close to Hays State Prison, where two violent offenders escaped in October.

The department’s proposed cuts include a $70 million reduction in staffing costs. Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said most of the staffing cuts would occur through attrition, and 100-plus employees who leave the department each month.

The Oct. 13 escape of two violent felons at the close-security Hays State Prison in Chattooga County is not far out of mind,

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, asked the Corrections commissioner whether the cuts would impact prison safety.

Mr. Owens said the department has changed its staffing system to provide more correctional officers in prison dormitories.

Johnny Mack Brown, 53, and Michael A. Tweedel, 48, escaped by climbing a dormitory building and scaling two fences topped with razor wire.

“I’m as comfortable as I can be after a $70 million reduction,” Commissioner Owens said.

Mr. Brown was captured in November in Lavonia, Ga., but Mr. Tweedel remains at large.

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