2006-05-11 / Front Page

Governor visits to open prison; 40+ new jobs created

Helping Gov. Sonny Perdue open the Wilkes Pre-release Center Monday morning were (center) Rep. Mickey Channell, DOC Commissioner James E. Donald, Sen. Jim Whitehead (rear) and Rep. Barry Fleming, along with DOC commissioners Rob Jones (far left) and Bill Jackson, (far right). Helping Gov. Sonny Perdue open the Wilkes Pre-release Center Monday morning were (center) Rep. Mickey Channell, DOC Commissioner James E. Donald, Sen. Jim Whitehead (rear) and Rep. Barry Fleming, along with DOC commissioners Rob Jones (far left) and Bill Jackson, (far right). Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, along with state representatives and corrections officials, opened the Wilkes Pre-release Center in ceremonies Monday morning attended by city and county officials, local and area law enforcement, and citizens.

The Wilkes facility was one of four that the Governor opened Monday. He and Department of Corrections officials also hosted opening ceremonies for prerelease centers in Lamar, Appling, and Turner Counties. Although officially open, the Wilkes facility will not begin receiving prisoners until late June, DOC officials said.

The prison facilities opened in Monday's ceremonies across the state will ultimately increase the safety of Georgia's communities, Perdue said, "These centers will transition lower-risk offenders back into the community, saving maximum security prison beds for murderers, sexual predators, and those who would prey on innocent Georgia citizens."

Using the 192-bed centers will also help the DOC to transfer state-sentenced inmates from county jails into the prison system, which will reduce county jail backlogs.

The new centers are also providing new jobs in rural Georgia. Each pre-release center will employ 45 to 50 staff members, and each center's payroll will put almost $2 million into the local economy each year.

Senator Jim Whitehead said that the funding to open the center fell into place earlier this year as a result of hard work by Wilkes County's representatives in Atlanta. "We're always looking for ways to bring jobs to Wilkes County," he said.

Some 20 staff members have been hired for the center after more than 120 job-seekers began the application and screening process in February. More are expected to be hired soon, prison officials said.

The opening of the pre-release centers Monday, the Governor's office said, were a result of Governor Perdue's recommendation of $48 million in the state's 2006 and 2007 budget that will allow the Department of Corrections to open an additional 4,200 prison beds.

The four pre-release centers are a new concept in Georgia, DOC commissioner James E. Donald said. The centers are designed to reduce inmates' risk of reoffending by addressing re-entry needs. Studies show that prisoners released through transition centers are statistically less likely to commit new crimes that those released directly from prison.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning, visitors to the Wilkes Pre-release Center were given tours of the new prison, including the dorms, the guard stations, and dining facilities.

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