Georgia considering big changes in justice

Effort spans costs, sentencing

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ATLANTA — Lawmakers are poised to consider substantial changes to the state’s criminal justice system that could reshape the way Georgia courts are run, overhaul the state’s expensive prison system and even transform the way offenders are sentenced.

Newly-arrived prisoners wait to be processed at the state prison in Jackson, Ga. After years of little progress, Georgia lawmakers could consider adopting reforms in the next session to overhaul the state's overcrowded and expensive prison system.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Newly-arrived prisoners wait to be processed at the state prison in Jackson, Ga. After years of little progress, Georgia lawmakers could consider adopting reforms in the next session to overhaul the state's overcrowded and expensive prison system.


The effort has the backing of conservative groups, judges and a long list of prominent attorneys. And it has the endorsement of powerful politicians and Gov. Nathan Deal, a longtime attorney whose son, a superior court judge, leads an ambitious program in north Georgia.

Don’t expect an overnight overhaul. Legislators haven’t decided which of the recommendations outlined last week by a criminal justice commission they will propose during the 2012 legislative session. And advocates have warned it will take painstaking work to build support for some of the more costly reforms.

But they say there’s a growing consensus among powerbrokers and politicians that changes are needed to reduce annual corrections spending funding that already tops $1 billion and target stubborn recidivism rates that remain stuck at nearly 30 percent.

The changes recommended by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform range from big-ticket items to low-hanging fruit that would require tweaks to current law. If lawmakers do nothing to change sentencing rules, the state will have to pump another $264 million into the prison system by 2016 to expand capacity.

PRICEY SUGGESTIONS include building a statewide system of drug courts and other so-called accountability courts that offer alternative sentencing for certain offenders, and adding more community-based treatment centers for low-level offenders. Those proposals could require a substantial investment and time to implement, but backers say they will save corrections funding in the long run.

But the committee also came up with a range of less costly policy shifts, such as reducing prison terms for nonviolent offenses, raising the thresholds for suspects charged with certain felonies, decriminalizing a host of minor traffic offenses and creating a “safety valve” that allows judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for some drug charges.

The safety valve, in particular, seems to resonate with lawmakers.

“A lot of legislators have heard from judges that they are tying their hands,” said state Rep. Jay Powell, a Camilla Republican who also is on the council. “They say, ‘You give me all this authority as a judge but then you tie my hands.’ I think it’s a combination of things that have made the safety valve percolate at this time.”

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein also supported giving judges more discretion.

“Having served as a trial judge, I know there are really differences in the same kinds of crime when you look at the defendants and the facts of the crime,” she said.

Lawmakers are expected to prepare at least an initial draft of proposals by the start of the legislative session in January.

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wtinney
0
Points
wtinney 11/27/11 - 02:11 am
0
0
This is overall a bad idea

This is overall a bad idea and I can only guess as to what so-called "conservatives" are actually for these changes.

First, the non-violent offender punishment reductions are a response to minority groups that want to get from underneath determinate sentencing standards. This will mean that in-place standards concerning powder cocaine and crack cocaine will become balanced. This has long been an unreasonable civil rights issue because crack and powder cocaine are not the same in terms of damage of use, properties of amounts, as well as temporal circumstances that actually lead to a too small a punitive punishment for powder cocaine offenders.

Specialized court systems for nonviolent offenders such as drug courts, teen courts, truancy courts, etc. are just more ways to sneak in rehabilitation measures that 1) eventually cost more money by extension of these special systems (new structures, employees and such) but also by the resources that would have to be put into rehabilitation measures that these judges would hope to have the discretion to provide in sentencing. 2) the rehabilitation measures have been shown not only to be costly, but also, failures to boot - which would increase recidivism rates IF these folks were actually put within the system in the first place. Since they will not be put into the system in the first place, by definition, it is not recidivism and therefore, these rates on the surface may seem lower at the onset but in actuality, society is still under the same or growing pressure of crime and the resources being pushed into the criminal justice system.

Let's now deal with discretion. Discretion is a two edged sword and everybody, by now, should know this problem. Civil rights groups have largely been kept at bay because standardized elements of criminal activity has been written into law to produce standardized punishments. This is determinate sentencing. Judges and the criminal justice system overall have been largely shielded from the civil rights attacks, in many ways, because these aspects are written into law. Now, with discretionary sentencing, what these judges are saying will give them 1) more independence and 2) more authority to apply the law based on the facts; will actually REDUCE their independence (and the systems independence) making them/it a more political system than it is even now. How? Since there is this huge influence of equal protections clause within society - you can imagine how soon NAACP will begin rating judges based on their "discretion" and, due to political influence, the ABA (American Bar Association) will have to pay attention - allowing that to influence its professional rating system of lawyers and judges (this information goes into consideration of anyone for higher prosecutorial or judgeship positions). The result is a more PARTIAL-looking justice system that opens itself up to civil rights challenges in a huge way. I actually foresee lawsuits against prosecutors and judges in the future with discretion added back into the system in any meaningful way.

One final note. In this article some judge says "you give us this power and authority then tie our hands". This is obviously a judge that does not understand his/her place within the court system. Judges are merely referees ensuring the laws of the land (including due process) is properly applied within the court processes and procedures. THEY ARE NOT TRULY POWERFUL and SHOULD NOT EVER THINK OF THEMSELVES AS SUCH. The jury, by definition and within a democratic system, is the sole arbituer of the facts and thus the most powerful entity within our criminal justice system. Too many judges tend to think of themselves as powerful and full of the authority within the system itself. Here is an ideal discription but we should always make moves to get closer to the ideal. By doing what this article suggests, we're actually moving away from that ideal in significant fashion in Georgia. To save money in operating costs does not mean license is granted to shirk responsibilities of government (and, specifically, the criminal justice system)

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 06:05 am
0
0
This marks the end to the War

This marks the end to the War on Drugs. It's a backdoor, politically expedient, way to end our misguided billion dollar efforts with decriminalization and alternatives to prison.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 10:51 am
0
0
I despise drugs, and drug

I despise drugs, and drug users. The start up costs for this are going to be 'high'. (pun intended) And in my opinion, it will serve little purpose for most. Won't put a dent on the crime associated with those who use drugs.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 11:12 am
0
0
We should legalize marijuana;

We should legalize marijuana; no it in way impairs peopllles capa…capa…billities.

Nor does it impair, ah um ah…I forgot what I was going to say.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 11:19 am
0
0
bj...it does impair peoples

bj...it does impair peoples capabilities....I believe it is a major reason why a lot of teens aren't learning in school (yes, it is that bad around here). And a reason why people can't perform at work (or spend more time getting high on the clock than working). I don't think drugs should be legal. But heres another score for liberals. I wonder what will be legalized next?

wtinney
0
Points
wtinney 11/27/11 - 11:29 am
0
0
This is overall a bad idea

This is overall a bad idea and I can only guess as to what so-called "conservatives" are actually for these changes.

First, the non-violent offender punishment reductions are a response to minority groups that want to get from underneath determinate sentencing standards. This will mean that in-place standards concerning powder cocaine and crack cocaine will become balanced. This has long been an unreasonable civil rights issue because crack and powder cocaine are not the same in terms of damage of use, properties of amounts, as well as temporal circumstances that actually lead to a too small a punitive punishment for powder cocaine offenders.

Specialized court systems for nonviolent offenders such as drug courts, teen courts, truancy courts, etc. are just more ways to sneak in rehabilitation measures that 1) eventually cost more money by extension of these special systems (new structures, employees and such) but also by the resources that would have to be put into rehabilitation measures that these judges would hope to have the discretion to provide in sentencing. 2) the rehabilitation measures have been shown not only to be costly, but also, failures to boot - which would increase recidivism rates IF these folks were actually put within the system in the first place. Since they will not be put into the system in the first place, by definition, it is not recidivism and therefore, these rates on the surface may seem lower at the onset but in actuality, society is still under the same or growing pressure of crime and the resources being pushed into the criminal justice system.

Let's now deal with discretion. Discretion is a two edged sword and everybody, by now, should know this problem. Civil rights groups have largely been kept at bay because standardized elements of criminal activity has been written into law to produce standardized punishments. This is determinate sentencing. Judges and the criminal justice system overall have been largely shielded from the civil rights attacks, in many ways, because these aspects are written into law. Now, with discretionary sentencing, what these judges are saying will give them 1) more independence and 2) more authority to apply the law based on the facts; will actually REDUCE their independence (and the systems independence) making them/it a more political system than it is even now. How? Since there is this huge influence of equal protections clause within society - you can imagine how soon NAACP will begin rating judges based on their "discretion" and, due to political influence, the ABA (American Bar Association) will have to pay attention - allowing that to influence its professional rating system of lawyers and judges (this information goes into consideration of anyone for higher prosecutorial or judgeship positions). The result is a more PARTIAL-looking justice system that opens itself up to civil rights challenges in a huge way. I actually foresee lawsuits against prosecutors and judges in the future with discretion added back into the system in any meaningful way.

One final note. In this article some judge says "you give us this power and authority then tie our hands". This is obviously a judge that does not understand his/her place within the court system. Judges are merely referees ensuring the laws of the land (including due process) is properly applied within the court processes and procedures. THEY ARE NOT TRULY POWERFUL and SHOULD NOT EVER THINK OF THEMSELVES AS SUCH. The jury, by definition and within a democratic system, is the sole arbiter of the facts and thus the most powerful entity within our criminal justice system. Too many judges tend to think of themselves as powerful and full of the authority within the system itself. Here is an ideal description but we should always make moves to get closer to the ideal. By doing what this article suggests, we're actually moving away from that ideal in significant fashion in Georgia. To save money in operating costs does not mean license is granted to shirk responsibilities of government (and, specifically, the criminal justice system).

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 12:01 pm
0
0
Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 11/27/11 - 06:44 pm
0
0
Guess why you did not read

Guess why you did not read the word democrats in this article. BECAUSE they like these big changes!!

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 07:09 pm
0
0
The problem is we have a

The problem is we have a public health crisis with drugs. We have to determine how best to handle the problem in a thoughtful, nonpunitive way that will actually decrease usage. As the state has discovered, we don't have the money to continue the old way locking up all the users.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 07:01 pm
0
0
Perhaps a bigger push to get

Perhaps a bigger push to get the dealers off the streets...And not just the corner drug boys.

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 07:07 pm
0
0
The problem is our push has

The problem is our push has gotten about as big as we can afford it to be and, yet, I can walk about two blocks anywhere in Augusta and other cities and get most any illegal drug in existence. Whatever you call what we've been doing hasn't worked.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 07:28 pm
0
0
If you can walk 2 blocks

If you can walk 2 blocks anywhere in Augusta and get anything illegal, that in itself should tell you that there is NO push to eliminate dealing. Many moons ago people would get an undercover to do this. Today, it seems that the dealing is an accepted way of life and part of this culture - with drugs we also will have burglaries, assault, illegal guns, prostitution, murder, addiction, school drop outs, and the list goes on..........

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 07:34 pm
0
0
Texas has the most

Texas has the most incarcerated population in the WORLD. Geogia is SECOND in the WORLD. To my mind there are some messed up nations, but we have more in prison? It doesn't make sense.

We've spent billions trying to stamp out drugs and incarcerate users. The state now has no more money to keep imprisoning these drug users. We have to try another tact. There's no other way. It's time.

lsmith
105
Points
lsmith 11/27/11 - 07:48 pm
0
0
Riverman, you're correct the
Unpublished

Riverman, you're correct the USA has the worlds worst record for incarceration of it's citizens. That said, the cultural demise has turned us into one of the most violent places to live. I agree with the idea of alternative sentencing for drug use, traffic offenses and other non violent crimes, but I'm for throwing the book even harder for repear offenders of crimes that harm others.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 07:54 pm
0
0
Riverman....I can see your

Riverman....I can see your point with users. But I think there should have been a more concentrated effort in getting the dealers. Regardless of the route they choose, the government will be spending money to either incarcerate or rehabilitate (or both). I always think of the crime associated with drug use/dealing too.

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:00 pm
0
0
ISmith, I absolutely agree we

ISmith, I absolutely agree we have to have room in prisons for those offenders who commit serious crimes. That means alternative punishment for druggies.

Patty-P if we decriminalize and actually allow drugs to be sold under government auspices, we can control it to a greater degree and decrease the crime associated with illegal drugs and addicts stealing to support their habits.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:06 pm
0
0
Riverman....I still don't

Riverman....I still don't think it is that simple. Are you talking about legalizing ALL drugs, or just weed?

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/27/11 - 08:16 pm
0
0
You asked River, but I say

You asked River, but I say start with weed and see where it goes. It can always be rescinded if there are unintended consequences, and harder drugs can be allowed if that experiment works and we are faced with no significant increase in addicts over what we have today.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/27/11 - 08:19 pm
0
0
Patty, there is no question

Patty, there is no question that funding for treatment will be needed, but I can't imagine that cost being but a fraction of the billions we spend on interdiction and incarceration; not to mention the billions more in costs of crime.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:30 pm
0
0
I don't have any answers to

I don't have any answers to the cost prohibitive arguments regarding the war on drugs, but I agree with Patty-P, nothing good will come of this.
Even legalizing weed, will have a profound effect on the youth.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:39 pm
0
0
If it's all about money, I

If it's all about money, I suppose legalizing it and letting the government make a few bucks off of it would be a good option. I tend to look at the broad picture of everything, and I see nothing good coming from legalizing drugs.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/27/11 - 08:41 pm
0
0
Know why I disagree Willow?

Know why I disagree Willow? Everyone that wants to use it already does. It is easier for them to get than booze. If anything, removing the mystique of the forbidden fruit will lower usage rather than increase it. Just my $.02.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:42 pm
0
0
Willow, it already has a

Willow, it already has a profound effect on the youth. And we wonder why our youth aren't doing well when it comes to education. Some folks who are for legalizing it need to stand on the frontlines in some of these communities and see whats really going on. Legal or not, it's a bad thing.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:46 pm
0
0
I think differently Vito. Did

I think differently Vito. Did legalizing alcohol, stop its draw and appeal? I believe that the law holds many back. Some do not need the law to do what is right. Some need the law to tell them what is right. And others, go their own way regardless of the law.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/27/11 - 08:46 pm
0
0
Patty, you may be right, but

Patty, you may be right, but I feel it is a worthwhile experiment.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:47 pm
0
0
I am with you, Patty.

I am with you, Patty.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:56 pm
0
0
But, I still luv you, Vito.

But, I still luv you, Vito.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:58 pm
0
0
Thanks Willow. Vito...I do

Thanks Willow. Vito...I do understand that some would like to save money and/or make money off of legalizing, but in the long run I think it may create just as many problems. I'm not absolutely certain without googling, but the punishment in other countries is more severe than in the US. What is your take on the leniency in the US as compared to other countries and the effect on recidivism?

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:59 pm
0
0
We have drastically cut

We have drastically cut tobacco use with education. I believe the same can be accomplished with drugs. Alcohol prohibition didn't work and generated major crime syndicates that are still around. Alcohol is a tricky thing to define, too, because the vast majority of people don't have a problem with it.

The fact is with all our emphasis on outlawing and jailing drug users, we haven't made a dent in the problem, but we've wasted billions. We are now out of money.

Riverman1
86676
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:01 pm
0
0
Patty, in other western

Patty, in other western countries the punishment for drugs is a lot less severe than it is here.

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