Gov. Deal looks to reform prisoner education

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal says he wants a new criminal justice reform law to emphasize classroom education and online job training for inmates.


He wants to use programs currently in place – such as firefighter, farming and vocational training – without adding costs, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said Friday.

“These people are released back into society, and the governor knows it’s very difficult for many of them to find employment and it’s difficult for employers to take a chance,” Robinson said.

Deal first spoke of his plan in a Thursday speech to the United Negro College Fund.

Robinson said enhancing educational opportunities for nonviolent offenders will be on the agenda when the special council on criminal justice reform reconvenes later this year.

The main focus of the 13-person panel will be finding better ways to rehabilitate eligible juveniles in the prison system, but Rep. Jay Neal said another goal for the special council is to review educational programs the Department of Corrections already has in place for adult inmates.

Neal, a LaFayette Repub­lican, co-sponsored the bill Deal signed into law last month to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system.

“It’s critical that any time you’re talking about criminal justice, one of the things that’s very, very important is to have proper assessment of the prisoners you’re dealing with,” Neal said. “Not all prisoners need the same resources and educational opportunities. The ones who get out need to have a chance at a decent future.

“For the prisoners who are not ever going to get out, you don’t provide them with the same opportunities.”

The Department of Corrections Web site says more than 8,000 inmates voluntarily participate each instruction day in academic and literacy programs. Of the 2,500 to 3,000 GED exams given each year, there’s a 74 percent passing rate.

Vocational programs offered include opportunities to become skilled in construction, maintenance, mechanics and service industries.

Neal said enhancing or expanding current programs may not require additional funding. He said some money could come from the new law, which could trim $250 million over the next five years off the state’s $1.2 billion corrections budget.

“Anything that reduces the recidivism rate will reduce additional costs,” Neal said. “I think that if there are additional costs, they’d come through justice reinvestment. You could use some of those cost savings.”