ATLANTA --- Georgia's crowded prison population is expected to swell even larger over the next few years under new parole guidelines designed to keep the state's worst violent offenders behind bars longer.
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Thursday gave tentative approval to new rules that would use a formula aimed at calculating a prisoner's chance of re-offending in determining when he or she would be granted parole. The rules also seek to bring parole guidelines in line with sentences handed down by the judges in each case.
The change would mean that high-risk violent offenders would spend more time in prison, while those behind bars for minor crimes who are unlikely to offend again would get out sooner.
"We're making room for violent offenders," board chairman Garland Hunt said Thursday.
Mr. Hunt said that by creating better uniformity throughout the system it will give the board's decisions more credibility.
Georgia's prison population -- the fifth-largest in the nation -- is expected to rise in coming years, fueled by tough mandatory sentences and a steady stream of new admissions.
Officials said the parole rule change would initially cause the state's prison population to soar above what it would be if the system was left alone. But by 2010 the growth would slow. By December 2012 there would be 1,730 fewer prisoners in the system than there would have been if the system had not changed, officials said.
Georgia's prisons are already bursting at the seams.
The system is at 104 percent of capacity with just under 59,000 inmates and probation violators, Department of Corrections spokesman Paul Czachowski said. Meanwhile, hundreds of prisoners in county jails are waiting for space to open up in the state's prisons.