Adequate Staffing and Funding for Correctional Facilities

A radio, a set of keys, and a baton. For most corrections officers in Georgia, these three items are the only resources they have during their shifts in state prison units.[1] According to the Department of Justice, the federal baseline inmate-to-corrections-officer ratio is 15:1. In the state of Georgia, some understaffed prisons are experiencing a ratio of 200 inmates for every correction officer.[2


Prisons in the state are experiencing extreme understaffing and turnover issues regarding corrections officers. Some prisons have reported up to 79% vacancy rates in recent years.[3] From 2010 to 2020, Georgia state prisons saw a 35% drop in corrections officers, while there was only a 5% drop in the prison population.[4] This high vacancy rate is due to the low pay officers receive in this position. Georgia has one of the lowest wages in the nation for corrections officers, with an average yearly salary of $40,000.[5] This wage is significantly lower than other neighboring states like Alabama and Tennessee (between $45,000-$50,000). The conditions of these prisons and the safety risks officers face, compiled with the large number of inmates that they are assigned to supervise, cause many people to either not consider the position or to quickly leave once they are hired.


An inadequate number of guards not only puts inmates and staff at physical risk but it also leads to inadequate care for imprisoned people experiencing medical emergencies and mental health crises. When there are not enough corrections officers in a prison unit, a guard cannot leave their post to transport inmates to medical staff. Additionally, inmates cannot be taken to recreational areas, showers, group therapy sessions, workouts, and visitation areas. If prisoners do not have access to these resources, it affects their mental health and causes extreme levels of stress and anxiety. Without these outlets, violent behavior as well as suicidal thoughts occur for many incarcerated people. According to Commissioner Tyrone Oliver, 14,000 out of 52,000 inmates across the agency are treated for mental health issues.[6]


One of the clearest ways to combat the staffing shortage is by increasing pay for the position. Currently, Governor Kemp is proposing a $3,000 salary increase for corrections officers and other state workers for the 2025 budget.[7] Oliver stated on January 18 that the department has hired more corrections officers and employees than it lost over the past nine months and decreased its turnover rate from 47% in fiscal 2022 to a projected 32% by the end of fiscal 2024 on June 30.[Ibid] This improvement could be attributed to the $5,000 pay raise in 2022 and $2,000 pay raise in 2023.[8] However, almost half of budgeted corrections officer positions remain vacant.

Decarceration is another route that would help with overcrowding issues and would require less personnel to be needed in prison units.[9] Non-violent drug offenses and mandatory minimums were detailed in a previous Capitol Corner article by Spencer Frye Fellow Meera Srinivasan.[10] Both of these issues, if addressed, would help reduce the number of people serving time in America.