FOLKSTON — The largest private employer in Charlton County is shuttering its doors at the end of September, costing 316 employees their jobs.
Most of the inmates at the D. Ray James Correctional Facility will be moved to other prisons.
It’s part of a move to phase out the use of private contracted facilities housing federal inmates.
Charlton County Manager Hampton Raulerson said there will be a noticeable impact on the local economy once the prison closes. Many employees live outside Charlton County, but they supported restaurants, convenience stores and other local businesses.
The city of Folkston will also lose millions of dollars in revenue because the prison makes up nearly half the city’s water and sewer system.
The county is making an effort to find another occupant for the prison, built in 2010.
It originally housed state inmates until a contract was reached with the federal prison system.
Raulerson said the ICE side of the prison operations will continue to hold prisoners who are not U.S. citizens.
If county officials can attract a new tenant, Raulerson said it’s likely negotiations will begin to house county inmates in a facility at the prison.
A federal judge closed the old Charlton County Jail in 1995 because of unconstitutional living conditions.
County inmates were housed at the prison when it served state needs, but federal prison officials ended the agreement once they moved their inmates into the facility.
Currently, Charlton County inmates are held in surrounding county jails while awaiting trial or serving sentences.
Raulerson said jailers spend an inordinate amount of time shuttling inmates to and from jails for court appearances.
“Our inmates are spread out,” he said. “Our jailers spend a lot of time in taxi service.”
Some of the top elected officials in the state have expressed concerns about the decision to close the prison and the potential impact it will have on the local economy.
“Phasing out a high-quality, cost-effective facility that will create significant job losses and likely result in furthering the public health crisis appears to be a very shortsighted decision,” wrote U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and U.S. Reps. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-1, and Doug Collins, R-9.