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February 27, 2012

Georgia latest "red" state moving forward with "progressive" sentencing reforms

A helpful reader alerted me to this new article appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which provides another notable example of a notable state responding to budget concerns with sentencing reforms long urged by critics of "tough-on-crime" sentencing policies. The piece is headlined "Sweeping criminal justice changes proposed," and here are excerpts:

State legislative leaders on Monday proposed sweeping changes to criminal justice in Georgia, including a plan to reduce prison terms for some offenders and divert others into treatment rather than locking them up.

House Bill 1176 asserts that prison is by far the most expensive way to punish nonviolent offenders and that other methods are both cheaper and more effective. The reform effort would save tens of millions of dollars by reserving prison beds for violent criminals, backers say.  “This initiative represents a significant first step in bringing conservative common sense to our criminal justice system,” said Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, the lead sponsor of the bill.

But the bill did not immediately win the support of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has pledged to lead the state’s effort to reform its criminal justice system.  Deal said the bill failed to include all of the recommendations of a special council appointed to study the state’s approach to criminal sentencing.

Georgia spends more than $1 billion a year on prisons. Maintaining current sentencing laws would require Georgians to spend another $264 million over the next five years for more prison beds, the special council found.

“The governor will need to see changes in the current bill that will bring it back toward the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Reform Council,” said Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman. “The process is intended to reduce costs to taxpayers, and it’s his opinion that this bill might actually increase costs.”...

The bill would allow the Department of Corrections to start a pilot program that would identify the lowest-risk nonviolent drug and property offenders headed to prison and allow judges to divert them to community-based supervision programs....

The bill will be considered by a special joint committee of the state House and Senate, instead of following the usual process of being reviewed separately by committees of the two chambers.

We sure know that the state sentencing times have changed when a bill to reduce prison terms for some offenders and divert others into treatment rather than locking them up is praised by a Republican legislator in Georgia as "conservative common sense" while the state's Republican Governor worries that the bill does not go far enough to reduce prison terms and associated costs.

February 27, 2012 at 09:22 PM | Permalink

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No one has any way of knowing about the Georgia prison system until they have experienced having a loved one serving time. I certainly didn't. My son is now on his 11th year of a 20 year sentence. He is one of the most gentle spirited, loving and caring persons one could ever meet. He is certainly no threat to anyone. Prison staff who have been around him will tell you the same. I realize that many of the inmates in Georgia may need to be locked away from society, but my osn will tell you that he has met some of the best people he has ever met since he's been in prison. There are so many serving time like my son who are not criminal minded, who made horrible mistakes in a span of a few minutes. Yet, the parole board has total control over decisions of early release, no one else, not the prison staff who work with the inmates everyday and certainly know better than what a member of the parole board can read in an inmate's file. Some of the minimum sentencing laws need to be changed. A system of rewarding good behavior needs to be put into place. Even when an inmate is convicted of a violent crime, doesn't necessarily mean he is violent and a danger to anyone. Sometimes the difference is how much money the family of a inmate has, who his attorney is, and who the victims are as to the length of sentence given. My son never hurt anyone, if fact one of the victims said he acted like a member of the Apple Dumpling gang. Yet, I have known of murderers who tortured their victim for two weeks before finialy killing them and served much less time than my son will serve. Liberty and justice for all is merely a myth.

Posted by: Nancy Kaylor | Mar 25, 2012 1:11:06 PM

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