Georgia > House Passes Prison Reform Plan as Progress Continues

| March 17, 2015

Georgia CapitolATLANTA — The state House has passed a bill supporting a program that will start a 4-year long criminal justice reform plan.  The bill continues efforts begun in 2011 when a blue-ribbon panel of experts delivered a slate of needed criminal justice reform recommendations.

Today, there are fewer people in state custody and many believe these measures are part of the reason.  Initiatives such as education opportunity programs for inmates, new sentencing options for judges, and new courts have all contributed to this trend.

A report published in the Macon Telegraph states that back in 1988, fewer than 20,000 people were incarcerated across the Georgia Department of Corrections System.  Jump ahead 20 years and there were more than 60,000 incarcerated.  That made Georgia one of the nation’s biggest prison systems.

Since 2008, though, the trend has been improving.  Since hovering around 60,000 from 2009, the number is now about 55,000.  Still a way to go, but an improvement nonetheless.

The state now works more efficiently retrieving state inmates from county jails, which has eased overcrowding at the local level.

Another aspect of the reform initiative means beds are reserved for the most violent offenders. Though a larger percentage of inmates today are theft or property criminals, violent offenders and predators are serving longer sentences.

In an initiative just started, inmates that are eligible will leave prison with a “transcript” of individual improvements made while incarcerated.  For example, efforts made in improving education, vocational skills, mental health therapy, addiction treatment and other areas will be outlined in the transcript as a type of reform resume.

The area of Judicial Supervision has also helped incarceration numbers.  These accountability courts, as they are called, are designed to deliver treatment for cases that would be served better by reform than punishment, leaving prison bed space available for violent criminals and predators.

Organized by districts per population, these courts work with DUI offenders, veterans, parents and people involved in drug addition.  Of the 156 in service in the state, 59 have been started since 2013 at the direction of Governor Nathan Deal.

In cases involving drug abuse in families, for example, parents undergo a 1-2 year program as part of the court.  They are subjected to two random drug tests each week, twice monthly visits with a judge, and random visits from surveillance officers.  They also can take advantage of mandatory parenting training and domestic violence education.

This part of the initiative has saved thousands of children in the state from a childhood of foster care, keeping families together and giving them the tools to improve their situation.

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