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April 4, 2010

Georgia not (yet) considering prison reduction to cut costs

This effective piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is headlined "Georgia prison population, costs on rise," suggests that Georgia may soon have start considering it prison populations as it tries to deal with budget deficits. Here are excerpts:

As Georgia lawmakers desperately search for ways to slash spending, they are not debating an option taken by other states: cutting the prison population. Georgia operates the fifth-largest prison system in the nation, at a cost of $1 billion a year.  The job of overseeing 60,000 inmates and 150,000 felons on probation consumes 1 of every 17 state dollars.

The state’s prison population has jumped by more than a quarter in the past decade and officials expect the number of state inmates to continue to creep upward. Georgia has resorted to measures other than reducing the prison population to keep corrections spending under control....

Georgia prisoners are serving longer sentences due to tough-on-crime laws adopted in the 1990s. Those laws ban early release through parole for many offenders. A wave of convictions related to illegal methamphetamine also pushed up prison admissions in recent years.

Enough states are experimenting with keeping fewer offenders behind bars that the total number of state prisoners held nationwide declined this year for the first time in nearly four decades, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States.  The Pew study found that prison populations dropped in half the states.  Georgia was among the states that posted an increase.

Budget problems played a role in the prison population reductions elsewhere.  But so did a sense among some policy makers that continuing to put greater numbers of offenders behind bars for longer sentences would not be effective at reducing crime, especially for some non-violent offenders and those incarcerated on drug charges....

States working to cut prison populations are relying on new research that helps them identify which offenders are likely to do well outside of prison and which programs work best to discourage recidivism....

Cutting Georgia’s prison population hasn’t been debated this year, even as legislators have considered drastic cuts in education, health care programs and the judiciary.  Given the state’s finances, some influential voices say it is time to begin a conversation about prison spending.

State Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), who leads a subcommittee that oversees public safety spending, said it makes sense for the Legislature to study alternatives.  Martin said sentencing some low-risk offenders to house arrest at night, while requiring them to work during the day, could be more effective than placing them behind bars for a year with hardened criminals.

Such an approach could conserve resources to keep dangerous offenders locked up, he said, while also steering low-level offenders into more productive lives.  “If they are non-violent and do not pose a risk to the community or themselves,” Martin said, “let’s find a way to punish them and make them continue to work and pay restitution and support their family.”

Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia Republican congressman who served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, wrote recently in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “Georgia simply can’t afford for the corrections system to maintain the status quo.” Gingrich argued that recidivism rates are unacceptably high and that churches and non-profits need to offer more resources and support to help offenders who are released from prison build productive lives in the community.

“Celebrating taking criminals off the street with little thought to their imminent return to society is foolhardy,” Gingrich wrote in the article, which was co-authored by Mark Earley, a former attorney general of Virginia.

April 4, 2010 at 10:35 PM | Permalink


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That was awesome! Probably one of the more interesting reads in awhile. Damn interesting……..

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Posted by: helenabonham | Apr 5, 2010 2:13:47 AM

"Effective" indeed, if you're more concerned about promoting a political stance than . . . you know, reporting facts about sentencing. It contains precisely no data supporting the various vague claims made about longer sentences or changes in parole playing the roles activists claim they play -- just the claims themselves. There is no acknowledgment of the rise in population incarcerated for violent crime, for just one example of what doesn't fit the politics at work here. Nor is there any passing mention of the historical correlation between sentencing reform and crime rate reduction. Those things, while extremely relevant, apparently don't fit the preconceptions of either the reporter or this blogger. What remains is a series of allegations put forth by various partisan activists all single-mindedly opposed to keeping offenders off the streets, either on the grounds of personal preference or in the interest of saving money on victims' backs, to wit, that intellectual dilettante and failed legislator Newt Gingrich. Doesn't the public deserve an actually objective discussion? Should law professors be trying to encourage factual discussions?

Posted by: Tina Trent | Apr 8, 2010 6:30:41 AM

Another consideration for Georgia is to parole juvenile offenders who were charged as adults to allow them to get educated, rehabilitate, and/or pay restitution to their victims. Of those offenders, 90% black and most are serving at least 10 years in prison for armed robbery (and not necessarily while using a gun--any simulated weapon will do). Studies show that these juveniles are at risk for being criminalize and don't really comprehend the reason they were sentenced so harshly (possibly creating severe emotional and behavorial problems affecting society in the long-run). As an attorney told me, the state doesn't care what happens to you after sentencing but in my opinion, they should!

Posted by: PW | Apr 27, 2010 6:48:50 PM

im just a normal person from merced ca i have a brother now locked up here in ga , he did break the law and now is serving time for that,{a very very long time} ,his sentence was crazy compare to other states , it is unneccary to lock people up for so long for non vilent crimes , to me it just makes everything worse, i think its so sad that they will cut scools funding before changing this backword system.

Posted by: KRISTEN NELSON | May 25, 2010 3:44:22 AM

Im a prisoner n Ga n have been for the past 15 yrs. My offense is Rape in which i still maintain my innocence. I have seen the system evolve into a n empire. Its viewed fromm the outside looking n as a factor n Gal's economy, but frmm the inside, the GDC spends money annually on its prison system alone. These expenditures cannot be viewed by the public. An intricate audit would reveal things u never knew about GDC.

Posted by: dante reign | Dec 28, 2011 7:45:45 AM

Ga must have the worst sentencing in the world. My husband was given a life sentence pluse 25 yesrs. The guy {white]admitted he pawned my husband truck for 50 dollars worth of crack. My husband of 25 years was never given a fair trial. The white guy walked away free.I am stilly in shock,Please help a Savannah wife get a sentence reduction for him.

Posted by: rosalyn rouse | Feb 21, 2012 3:16:19 PM

I am so GLAD that Georgia hasn't considered letting criminals out early simply due to overcrowding. If they do the crime, they should do the time. Most Especially if they are crimes with victims. I PRAY that NO vehicular homicide sentence is ever reduced because this is a senseless and horrible crime against society. I know someone who killed another driver while drinking and driving and he is out, drinking and driving again only this time, addicted to drugs. Stay Tough on Crime Georgia!!!

Posted by: Shannon Devay | Jan 21, 2014 3:02:31 AM

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