SAVANNAH, Ga. — Gov. Nathan Deal plans to ask state lawmakers for $10 million to expand Georgia’s alternative sentencing courts, which he says will help reduce the prison population by diverting nonviolent offenders into programs focused on treatment and probation.
“As we divert more and more people out of a very expensive prison system that costs about $18,000 per person per year, we will begin to see savings,” the Republican governor told the Savannah Morning News in a phone interview.
The newspaper reported Saturday that Deal said the money will be included in the budget proposal he’ll present to the Legislature this week. The funds would establish new drug courts, DUI courts, mental health court, day reporting centers and other alternative programs in the state.
Georgia has about 33 alternative courts, including one in Hall County run by the governor’s son, Superior Court Judge Jason Deal.
Deal said $10 million would be enough money to “considerably” expand alternative courts in Georgia, though he didn’t have an estimate for how many new courts the money would pay for.
Alternative court programs are largely funded at the local level.
Prisons cost the state about $1 billion every year. A national report published in 2009 said about 17 percent of Georgia inmates had drug-related crimes listed as their primary offense.
Deal said the drug courts and other alternatives can help “break the cycle of dependency” of substance abusers who commit crimes to fund their habits. The governor said his son’s program in Hall County has lowered the rate of recidivism to about 5 percent, while the statewide rate is 30 percent.
The Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, both have endorsed the idea.
Some influential Democrats are supporting the initiative as well.
“I believe it’s long overdue,” said state Sen. Emmanuel Jones, D-Decatur, the chairman of the Georgia Black Legislative Caucus. “Just look at what we’re spending locking people up.”