By Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2020

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) - A southeast Georgia prison will stay open at least a little bit longer.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter tells The Brunswick News that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to keep D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston open through at least January.

The prison has been scheduled to close at the end of this month, with private prison operator GEO Group laying off more than 300 employees as its federal contract expired.

Carter, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, all Georgia Republicans, had appealed jointly to the Bureau of Prisons to keep the lockup open, citing potential job losses and questioning whether it would be wise to move inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.”

Carter said he’s seeking a long-term contract extension or a deal to house other inmates at the facility, calling it the “backbone of the local economy.”

Many inmates have already been transferred. Federal records show the 1,900-bed prison was down to 586 prisoners on Friday, a decline of more than 600 since the closure announcement.

GEO has said the contract at the 1,900-bed prison is worth about $60 million a year. The Bureau of Prisons said in August that it determined that it had enough space in prisons the federal government owns and directly manages to house offenders from the Folkston prison.

Another part of the prison holds a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing center that is not threatened with closure.

The complex held state offenders until 2010.

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