Georgia considering big changes in justice

Effort spans costs, sentencing

  • Follow Crime & courts

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.

Comments (68) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:03 pm
0
0
River, you said "we are not

River, you said "we are not out of money"...did you mean to say, we are out of money?

Alcohol is a tremendous problem in this country. It is one of the greatest destroyers of the family and is the gateway to other dysfunctional behaviors.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:15 pm
0
0
Willow, I caught the typo

Willow, I caught the typo just after posting it originally and fixed it. You are fast...ha.

I've basically quit drinking these days although I wouldn't say I wouldn't have one in the right situation. I just don't want to publicly declare I don't drink anymore. I believe most people can have a drink or two without a problem. Some do have problems with it and turn into alcoholics and so on, I agree, but that's a small percentage.

Little Lamb
47857
Points
Little Lamb 11/27/11 - 08:33 pm
0
0
Riverman wrote: Texas has the

Riverman wrote:

Texas has the most incarcerated population in the WORLD. Geogia is SECOND in the WORLD.

Somehow, these statistics don't ring true. Let's face it. Texas and Georgia are political subdivisions. To make any meaningful comparisons, you would have to compare them to political subdivisions of other countries. To what subdivision in China would you compare Texas? . . . or Georgia for that matter? Are there more incarcerated Georgians than in the equivalent political state that encompasses Peking, or maybe Bombay? I sense an apples and oranges disconnect here.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:34 pm
0
0
Alcohol is a major problem in

Alcohol is a major problem in this country. Just take a look at some recent headlines right here in Augusta. Willow is absolutely right.
River, you may be right about certain countries, but the ones I've studied in the past have more severe penalties.
Maybe tobacco use has decreased because now everyone is smoking weed. Do you really think 'Philly Blunt' sales have gone up because of the tobacco? Do you need me to 'school' you on that one? lol

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:38 pm
0
0
River, if we compare the

River, if we compare the "reported numbers", of approximately 18 million "living" alcoholics in the USA, it does seem small, relative to the entire population. But try telling that to a child or adult who has had their life destroyed by it...not much comfort to them.

We also should consider that millions of alcoholics are still operating under the family "gag rule", where their secrets are kept protected and their numbers are unaccounted for.

It's important to remember that alcoholism doesn't end with the addict, it is the gift that keeps on giving generation after generation and it is rarely the only addiction that the person will have. Uncontrollable drinking seeks unhealthy relationships in almost every case. We have no real ability to assign the damages that come from practicing this addiction. And I have never met anyone, who told the truth, that did not know of at least one in their family.

I agree with you that everyone who has a drink will not become an alcoholic...the danger lies in finding out where we individually fit within the percentages. Additionally, what we pass down to our children, and they pass down to their children, grows.

Little Lamb
47857
Points
Little Lamb 11/27/11 - 08:39 pm
0
0
I wonder if the prison system

I wonder if the prison system in the political subdivision that encompasses Moscow has a molly-coddling mentality that allows the prisoners access to law libraries, color TV, weight training rooms, religious chaplains, social workers, lawyers, etc.? Likewise the prisons in China, Botswana, Indonesia, etc.? You cannot compare the U.S. prison system to every prison system everywhere else and have anything meaningful.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:45 pm
0
0
Alcohol is a tricky

Alcohol is a tricky proposition as I said before, but most adults don't have a problem with it. Anyway....About the weed...I know it used to take a looooooonnnnnnggggg time to walk down the street when I was a little high.

LL, maybe so. Still it shows TX and GA have a lot of people in jail. What does GA compare to? The slums of Bombay or whatever they call it now? We are both big as some countries. How do you feel about decriminalizing drugs and using the money to educate and treat?

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 08:51 pm
0
0
I sure hate to throw this in

I sure hate to throw this in here but here goes....Riverman how about a breakdown in percentages by race in these two southern states?

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:54 pm
0
0
From what I've read Georgia

From what I've read Georgia prisons are anything but easy. It's not the Gulag Archipelago admittedly, but standards of living in a country would reflect prison conditions, too.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 08:58 pm
0
0
Per capita incarceration

Per capita incarceration rates (per 100,000 population):

Russian Federation 550

China 122

1 Louisiana 853
2 Mississippi 735
3 Oklahoma 661
4 Texas 639
5 Alabama 634
6 Arizona 567
7 Florida 557
8 Georgia 540
9 South Carolina 519

The best state to be incarcerated depends on taste; Arizona, California, and Texas are going to have the best Mexican food but Texas adds barbeque, which is hard to resist. Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi are good for shrimp.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 08:58 pm
0
0
The only reason the

The only reason the government would choose to legalize drugs would be to make money from it. It would be better for them to change the way they charge and punish for it, than it would to affirm it's use through legalization.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 08:59 pm
0
0
Patty...I think you know the

Patty...I think you know the answer to that.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:01 pm
0
0
BJPhys, now don't go messing

BJPhys, now don't go messing up my point with actual numbers. Heh.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:02 pm
0
0
Riverman1: “From what I've

Riverman1: “From what I've read Georgia prisons are anything but easy.”

But the peanut butter sandwiches are to die for.

trimmy
29
Points
trimmy 11/27/11 - 09:02 pm
0
0
Let's just try caning for a
Unpublished

Let's just try caning for a one year period and keep really good records on who keeps commiting the same crime over and over. I think statistics would show a decrease in any particular offense after this punishment. But let's do it in a nice way as not to offend the liberals and whiners. If you want results, get tough. Criminals in time out will not work.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:03 pm
0
0
Oops, my bad.

Oops, my bad.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:05 pm
0
0
BJPhys, according to Wiki,

BJPhys, according to Wiki, the U.S. is about 750 per 100,000 and Russia is a distant second.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:07 pm
0
0
China gets to lockup a kitten

China gets to lockup a kitten kaboodle of people and still have a low per capita number because when you divide by 1 Gazzilion people you can’t go wrong.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:10 pm
0
0
My original claim that TX was

My original claim that TX was first and GA second may be off. Times change. The last listing I can find, it's now LA, OK, AL. TX and GA are now in a lower group with 450--550 per 100,000. Still the point remains. We are out of money to keep any more in jail.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:20 pm
0
0
Willow said, "It would be

Willow said, "It would be better for them to change the way they charge and punish for it, than it would to affirm it's use through legalization."

That's certainly one way to go about it and it sounds like what's about to happen.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:20 pm
0
0
Riverman1: “BJPhys, according

Riverman1: “BJPhys, according to Wiki, the U.S. is about 750 per 100,000 and Russia is a distant second.”

Wikipedia contradicts itself with multiple values.

743 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

504 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_incarceration_rate

I’d have to do my own analysis from their data sources to resolve the conflict so I selected to not quote either value.

Always adjust your signal-to-noise circuits on their most sensitive setting when using Wikipedia.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 09:22 pm
0
0
River....yes I do know the

River....yes I do know the answer to that question. And according to the list bjphysics posted, just take a look at the first two states and again give my question some thought.

According to Wik i pedia: Many sociologists and criminal justice academics argue that this disparity in prison population is reflective of discriminatory sentencing. In a study conducted by the Rand Corporation, it has been estimated that Blacks and Latinos received longer sentences and spent more time in jail than their white counterparts who were convicted of similar crimes and with similar criminal records.

Remember, we are in the South.

Crime rates are influenced by many different variables, and these states probably have a large percentage of people living in poverty. Crime and poverty (and drug use/abuse/addiction) are all connected.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 09:22 pm
0
0
We should be very careful

We should be very careful with the laws that we make. What we should be asking ourselves is... what do we want to hand down to the next generation and the next?

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 09:29 pm
0
0
River....my mention of race,

River....my mention of race, geographic location and number of people incarcerated (if even for drugs) has a connection. I bet the city of New York has plenty of drug dealing and crime, yet they aren't near the top of the list at all.
Even California doesn't make the list...

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:32 pm
0
0
Patty, I know you are

Patty, I know you are absolutely right. Blacks are imprisoned in a disproportionate number to their population. There is also prejudice in sentencing, but blacks also probably commit more crimes due to lack of jobs and so on. Nice conversation, folks. I'm out of here. Good night.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:32 pm
0
0
I gave up alcohol last night

I gave up alcohol last night at 10pm but just popped a beer; I plan on giving it up again at midnight after Boardwalk Empire.

Riverman1
90177
Points
Riverman1 11/27/11 - 09:33 pm
0
0
I'm watching that, too.

I'm watching that, too.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:42 pm
0
0
Riverman, you need a profile

Riverman, you need a profile picture, if you Google “riverman” you can find many:

http://www.google.com/imgres?q=riverman&hl=en&sa=X&rlz=1T4GGNI_enUS441US...

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 09:41 pm
0
0
I agree River, poverty and

I agree River, poverty and crime are directly linked. Not sure how the government plans to deal with it exactly, but like Willow mentioned earlier, they need to be careful of the laws they make or change because it will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren.

harley_52
24918
Points
harley_52 11/27/11 - 09:44 pm
0
0
I think you have two choices.

I think you have two choices. Either make the punishment so severe almost nobody will do it and then be prepared to carry it out.....or.....
legalize it all, take the profit out of it, and allow people to destroy themselves if they so choose.

If you do the latter, you've got to be willing to let them destroy themselves, not feel guilty as a society and pay for their medical bills.

You can't protect people from themselves.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Disc golf tournament benefits Augusta charity

APPLING — When Paul Childs runs a disc golf tournament, he wants it to mean something for the rest of the community. Childs he found a cause worth supporting: the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Search Augusta jobs