prison closing

D. Ray James Prison in Folkson, a privately run facility holding federal prisoners, will close at the end of September, costing 316 employees their jobs.

The D. Ray James Correctional Facility will not close this month as scheduled.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, announced the prison will remain open until at least early 2021.

A joint letter to Michael Carajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, from Carter, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, and U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, stated the argument to keep the prison in Folkston open.

“We are deeply concerned about the repercussions of this closure that will result in the loss of nearly 350 jobs for the rural communities surrounding it during one of the most economically challenging times our country has experienced in a century,” they wrote.

They questioned the decision to move inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you well know, prisons have been considered ‘hot spots’ for the virus in communities throughout the country,” the letter said. “Therefore, it is troubling to hear the proposal to transfer these inmates and compress already stressed BOP facilities during a time when public health experts are promoting social distancing in order to better mitigate the spread of the virus.”

They also said the 10-year-old prison, which is privately managed, has saved taxpayer dollars.

“We also know from your own cost data analysis that the D. Ray James facility provides a significant cost savings for taxpayers — approximately 30 percent — as compared to low security facilities managed directly by the agency. Therefore, 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.”

Charlton County Administrator Hampton Raulerson said he doesn’t have enough information to speculate about finding another tenant to occupy the prison. The uncertainty has not impacted the business community, but he said a decision to shut down the facility will be felt throughout the county.

“If we lose it, we’ll take a hit to all sales tax revenue,” he said. “We’ve had our hands full in the office.”

The decision to keep the doors open does not remove the possibility the prison could move all its inmates and close the doors early next year, meaning there is more work to do, Carter said.

“I am glad to confirm that we were able to secure a contract extension at D. Ray James Federal Corrections Facility in Folkston,” said Carter. “The facility is responsible for hundreds of jobs and is part of the backbone of the local economy. It would be devastating for the area if the facility shut down and the programs were moved elsewhere.

“During this contract extension, I am continuing to work on a long-term contract extension or alternative contracts.”

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