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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bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 09:49 pm
0
0
Patty-P, love that Diahann

Patty-P, love that Diahann Carroll hair style.

Patty-P
3520
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 10:00 pm
0
0
exactly harley-52....that is

exactly harley-52....that is my point about legalizing it. They legalize it then offer to pay for medical expenses or drug counseling. A large percentage of people will never be clean, it will always be a problem in one way or another. I'm not against helping people but at some point they need to make people accountable for bad choices.
Thank you bjphysics.

bjphysics
36
Points
bjphysics 11/27/11 - 10:09 pm
0
0
I think we should legalize

I think we should legalize the non-psychotic drugs: marijuana, LSD, heroin, etc. and see where that goes. I would allow the commercialization of marijuana and hallucinogenics but not the opiates; their distribution would be under government control.

I would be very careful and think we should wait sometime before addressing the issue of changing the legal status of drugs known to induce psychosis like amphetamines, cocaine, etc.

A pragmatic step-by-step approach with course corrections as seem reasonable based on objective empirical data, pharmacology, and social science analysis of societal impacts.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/27/11 - 10:25 pm
0
0
Harley, I favor the "let them

Harley, I favor the "let them destroy themselves" approach with one caveat; have some of the profits from commercialization go towards a support fund to make treatment "AVAILABLE" for those who want it. I can't imagine any scenario under which it would be more costly in lives ruined and taxpayer money spent on crime, interdiction, and incarceration that we have now. It would cripple the violent cartels south of us, and force dealers to get a dadgum job.

Patty-P
3520
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 10:39 pm
0
0
uh...excuse me...did someone

uh...excuse me...did someone just say to legalize LSD and heroin? Commercialize hallucinogens?

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 11/27/11 - 10:42 pm
0
0
Patty, what you heard is the

Patty, what you heard is the sound of the opening of Pandora's box. It always grows.

Patty-P
3520
Points
Patty-P 11/27/11 - 10:46 pm
0
0
Willow...I'm thinking I

Willow...I'm thinking I hopped on the wrong bus. I'm getting off at the next stop.

harley_52
26074
Points
harley_52 11/27/11 - 10:48 pm
0
0
Vito, I understand the

Vito, I understand the concern, but I've come to the point where I'm not all that concerned with what people "want" any more. People dig themselves into spots where they can't get out and then all of a sudden they WANT to make changes and expect society to bail them out.

Life is a series of decisions and the results of our decisions are what makes us failures or successes in life. The older I get, the less compassion I have for folks who keep making bad decisions and always expect somebody else to bail them out.

Riverman1
94242
Points
Riverman1 11/28/11 - 09:02 am
0
0
Want to decrease crime

Want to decrease crime dramatically? Dump a mountain of cocaine on Augusta Common and say help yourself. I doubt one person who is not already addicted will touch the stuff.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 11/28/11 - 09:33 am
0
0
You could be right River, but

You could be right River, but woe, unto the rest of us.

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