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Updated: 8:47 p.m. Friday, April 1, 2011 | Posted: 8:36 p.m. Friday, April 1, 2011

State closed DeKalb County prison

By Rhonda Cook

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state quietly and unceremoniously closed a prison in DeKalb County Friday that at one time was to have been a haven for female inmates who had been sexually abused by guards at a facility in Baldwin County.

Metro State Prison – originally opened to hold men but transformed into one for women in 1993 – was shuttered so the Department of Corrections could save money, the $19.1 million spent each year to run the institution.

The DOC, citing security concerns, would not say when the agency started moving almost 800 women to two prisons in rural Georgia -- Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto in Banks County in northeast Georgia and Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville in south Georgia. The agency also would not say when the move was completed.

But all the inmates and all the employees once at the 779-bed prison were gone by Friday.

Commissioner Brian Owens told legislators earlier this year he chose Metro for closing because the number of women coming into the system had dropped even as the overall prison population had increased 27.5 percent in the past decade.

A prison spokeswoman said there were no plans for the property that was Metro State Prison. But Owens said in January a private prison operation may be interested in buying the building.

Two private prisons for men are scheduled to open within the next two years, a 1,150-bed prison in Jenkins County and a 1,500-bed prison in Milledgeville. Both are each designed to be expanded up to 2,500 beds.

Georgia already has men in two private prisons that opened 13 years ago.

Metro opened in 1980 to house men. But the entire male population was moved out in 1993 to make space for the women coming from what was then called Georgia Women's Correctional Institution in Baldwin County.

DOC officials said at the time, the inmate swap was conceived to give female prisoners greater access to the medical and psychological services available in metro Atlanta. Another reason officials  noted was that many of the female inmates were from the metropolitan area and their confinement at an Atlanta prison would give family members more opportunities to visit.

The swap also made to get the female inmates out of a culture at Georgia Women’s Correctional Institution that had allowed officers and other workers at the prison to engage in sexual relationships with inmates. It was later discovered there was a similar problem Georgia's other two prisons for women.

Based on affidavits signed by almost 200 inmates alleging sexual abuse, more than a dozen DOC employees were fired transferred or suspended in the early 1990s. Top administrators with the DOC as well as the top staff at the prison in Baldwin County were removed.

And 15 men and women were indicted for allegedly sexually abusing inmates. Two guards pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation, a third was acquitted by a Baldwin County jury and the charges against the others were dropped.

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