Georgia prison commissioner warns of commissary price increase in budget

Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward urged lawmakers to reconsider a 35 cent increase in commissary items at the state’s prisons.

The commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Corrections urged lawmakers to reconsider a proposed increase to the cost of items in prison commissaries, saying the jump in prices could cause “operational issues.”

The Georgia House approved a mid-year budget last week that asked state prisons to increase commissary prices by an average of 35 cents per item. The Senate is now considering the budget proposals.

“When we proposed a 2% average (increase), that was strategic over time,” Commissioner Timothy Ward said. “From an operational standpoint, that shock on the system that quickly causes me a little bit of concern.”

State Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, mentioned during the Senate Appropriations subcommittee meeting that it could lead to security problems at the prisons.

The Department of Corrections initially proposed the slight increase in commissary item prices to increase revenue after Gov. Brian Kemp last summer called for state agencies to cut its budget by 4% this fiscal year and 6% next year.

The vast majority of inmates do not receive compensation for the work they do in the corrections system and rely on money from friends and family to purchase commissary items.

Hannah Riley, spokeswoman for criminal justice advocacy group the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the increase burdens the families of people who are incarcerated.

“Because they often rely on the commissary to purchase essential hygiene and food items, a price increase as significant as this means that once again, the costs of incarceration will be unfairly transferred to incarcerated people’s families, who already bear an enormous economic burden and can afford it the least,” she said.

The state prison commissary had about $10.7 million in revenue in the 2019 fiscal year, corrections officials said. That money goes back to inmate programs.

Commissary items, on average, cost about 40% less than products at market value, Ward said. With the increase, items would be about 25% less expensive than those purchased at a store, corrections officials said.

Items such as a 10 oz. container of cheese puffs could run $2.40 while a beef and cheese stick costs 65 cents.

"So it still would be cheaper than what they could buy commercially," said Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Chairman John Albers, a Roswell Republican.

In Other News