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Criminal Justice Reform in Georgia

June 9, 2014
Boy in handcuffs

In 21 years, between 1990 and 2011, Georgia prisons doubled in occupancy. And state spending increased — by over $500 million annually.

Something needed to change. Something wasn’t working.

So starting in 2011, our legislators and government officials started thinking of solutions. They created the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reforms for Georgians to help form and implement a plan. They realized that we were focusing too much on the punishment. Not every offender commits the same crime, so should they all face similar punishments?

Instead, they decided we needed to focus on keeping dangerous offenders (such as violent or sex offenders) in prison while using community-based solutions such as treatment centers or group homes for the less dangerous offenders. Also, by getting rid of the root of the problem, we can help break offenders from the same illegal life cycle.

In 2012 and 2013, they created 2 bills — one pertaining to adults and one for juveniles. After these 2 major bills passed, more bills have been passed as follow-ups, expanding these ideas. This past session, a bill passed focusing more on the re-entry aspect. How can we help offenders to ensure they don’t get back in prison after they're released?

Here’s brief overview of some of the major bills passed since 2012:

HB 1176

This bill passed unanimously through the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 2, 2012 and went into effect on July 1, 2012. Projected to save taxpayers $264 million in 5 years, HB 1176 started the process of allowing offenders to get training and help while they’re in prison. That way when they’re out on parole, they have the skills needed to get a job and hold onto it.

This bill also changed the details of certain crimes such as:

  • Drug Possession
  • Theft
  • Burglary
  • Forgery
  • Child Molestation
  • Child Abuse Suspicion

HB 242

This bill, known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, also passed unanimously by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Deal. It went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. It is projected to save us about $85 million in the next 5 years. This law helps mend what got the accused in trouble in the first place — using preventive measures to fix the root of the problem (dysfunctional families, anger issues, alcohol abuse, etc.). By using community-based programs, this law aims to break the cycle early.

HB 349

The General Assembly passed this bill in March 2013 to follow up HB 1176 as the second round of criminal justice reform using recommendations from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. One part of the bill allows offenders who qualify for the HOPE scholarship to still use it 24 months after they're released. Another goal of the legislation is to keep more prison space open for the leaders in crimes rather than clogging cells with the followers.

SB 365

This is phase 3 on crime reform. The bill, signed by the Governor on April 13, 2014, helps prepare offenders for the workforce. Inmates will complete treatment plans and vocational training while in prison. They will then be awarded a certificate that they can present to potential employers after their release. The aim of this bill is to remove the barriers blocking employment, housing and education for ex-offenders. It will go into effect on July 1, 2014.

Starting with HB 1176 from 2012 all the way to SB 635 from this year, these changes are projected to not only save us money, but help rehabilitate and increase the quality of life for thousands of Georgians.

About the Author

Bethany McDaniel is the Editorial Director for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, Ga., with degrees in Visual Communication and History.

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