Georgia chief justice urges jail alternatives

Saturday, Aug 11, 2012 10:15 AM
Last updated 7:39 PM
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ATLANTA — A nearly three-decade veteran of the bench, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein is a big advocate of finding alternatives to locking people up and thinks the state is on the right track with its focus on criminal justice reform.

Hunstein  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Hunstein


“We need to be open to new ideas rather than just put them away in prison as long as you can,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “If you put someone in the prison system, you effectively have harmed their ability to get work, and you probably have harmed them socially, as far as coming out and being a productive citizen.”

She mentioned an example from her time as a DeKalb County Superior Court judge. She had to hand down a mandatory minimum sentence of five years to a 17-year-old who had used a plastic pistol to steal a Starter jacket.

“I had no leeway,” she said. “Now, when that young man comes out, he may have a high school education. He won’t have any college. He will have no career. And it’s going to be very difficult for him to be successful in life.”

Hunstein was part of a panel that presented recommendations to the state Legislature, which resulted in the adoption this year of legislation to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system to provide alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders. The reforms were widely praised and unanimously approved by lawmakers in both chambers. Among the panel’s recommendations were treatment programs for drug offenders and increased supervision of released inmates.

A next step in the process is a focus on juvenile offenders, something Hunstein feels strongly about.

Teenagers don’t necessarily demonstrate the best judgment, but locking them up isn’t always the answer and often makes it more likely they’ll commit future crimes, she said.

“I think we have to address problems with our juveniles to prevent them from becoming adult criminals,” she said.

Locking people up for less time can also save the state enormous sums of money, an advantage that’s not lost on Hunstein. Since she took over as chief justice three years ago, she’s had to deal with substantial budget concerns. During her first year as chief justice, she had to fire some employees and furlough others. She and the other justices volunteered to take unpaid furlough days to keep costs down.

“It’s not quite as bad now as it was, but there were times when we were looking for contributions of pens and pencils and that sort of thing, just to save as much money as possible,” she said.

Hunstein was appointed to the state high court in 1992. She became chief justice in 2009 and has about a year left in her term, after which she’ll continue to serve on the court as a regular justice. She’s thinking ahead and has more ideas for reforming the criminal justice system in Georgia.

“I’m very interested in traffic misdemeanors,” she said. “Most citizens in this state don’t realize that when they plead guilty to most traffic offenses, they are pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.”

That plea can mean a fine and sometimes jail time and makes it so the offender technically has a criminal record, she said. Many states have changed this so that some traffic violations — like speeding or running a red light — are lesser offenses. Hunstein would like to see Georgia make a similar change or at least look into providing a way for most drivers to get that conviction off their record.

She would also like the state to consider a pretrial release program that would allow people accused of certain crimes to be released from jail without paying bond prior to trial. This would ease the burden on the local jail system and would allow people to get on with their lives until their cases are heard.

“When you are put in the jail system and you have to wait to have your case disposed of by the county or the city, you’re talking weeks, sometimes months, which means that you may lose your job, you may lose your apartment, you may lose your home, you may lose your family because you’re waiting there for an adjudication,” she said.

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cheapster505
581
Points
cheapster505 08/11/12 - 09:51 am
10
1
whoa

Your Honor whoa those going to prison probably don't care about those things the same as you do a 17 year old thinking of going to college IS NOT going to rob someone < nor Carjack someone <> so here we go with the Bleeding heart liberal thinking that got us in this mess Yes Prisoners have rights lets give them an education blah blah blah Watched PBS the other nite PEE WEE Murders Quote" the only education I got was In prison" Not the degree education is he talking about also Today it's all about "Street CRED" so the he** with your good intentions yea you wanna give me something OK want me to go str8 forgetaboutit "Give me three hots and a cot until I can get out smarter next time" which means They will KILL instead of going back

itsanotherday1
48207
Points
itsanotherday1 08/11/12 - 09:54 am
10
1
I think her ideas have merit.

I think her ideas have merit. I draw the line with career criminals though. They have already proven that they are beyond rehabilitation, so the best thing to do with them is lock them away until they are too old to be a problem.

cheapster505
581
Points
cheapster505 08/11/12 - 10:09 am
7
0
whoawell someone lives in an Ivory tower

someone lives in an Ivory Tower Yes everyone IS responsible and will show up for court dates and will drive safer someone doesnot read a local paper what is wrong with the Justice system? oblivious to the "Common MAN" so you robbed a person of a "Starter Jacket"useing a plastic gun Ha ha and they didn't get the joke? dismissed next time it will be a real gun so no witnesses, feel sorry for you but the scared victim it was a PLASTIC GUN get over it
when the courts feel sorry for the criminals instead of the victims ?
we have loss our judgical way the very idea of courts were for victims
not criminals someone robbed? it's not about the criminal it's for the VICTIM but some killed?let's hear how sad a life the Criminal had
never how bad a life the victim had or good life taken., Courts, judges, were set up for victims.

soapy_725
44110
Points
soapy_725 08/11/12 - 10:16 am
1
0
She has convinced me that their is life
Unpublished

on other planets. But not intelligent life. She certainly is not from the world. Penitentiaries were designed to rehabilitate. A place of penitence. Reflection on one's wrong doing. Paying for ones sins. A place to learn how to live in a civilized society. Remedial classes for t hose that have failed. WOW, what another massive "social mistake" by do gooders with a massive zeal for humankind without the least bit of WISDOM. Weeping for the anti social while minimizing the victims.

cheapster505
581
Points
cheapster505 08/11/12 - 10:20 am
6
0
some go bad

I worked in a juvie hall the kids knew you couldn't touch shout direpect them< they knew the game and played it up" You can't keep me when I turn 18.>> so send me to jail where my homies are> you don't scare me but you better be scared of me "Three friends and your a sex offender
may be false but tied up in paperwork for years while i move on HA
so you don't give me the marks I want> see you in court oh you have to pay att fees while theirs are free liberal mind-ed attoneys
"yea they had to pay me big time ""and they can't tell anyone but between me and you this is how it's done" I thought I would help a disadvantage youth found out I was the disadvantaged youth"

HighSociety
1841
Points
HighSociety 08/11/12 - 10:45 am
5
0
Cheapster, I agree.

Cheapster, I agree.

MachineMade
34
Points
MachineMade 08/11/12 - 01:33 pm
4
6
Not Liberal At All ...

Just common sense versus vigalante justice. Far too many non-violents are serving long sentences. Understand they were good citizens (family, job, community) but had a drinking, drug, or other social issue. So instead of helping, we tax ourselves to put people away that we are "mad" at. These are not career criminals only those that were guilty of really is "felony stupidity". One Richmond county judge said "they are only sorry because they got caught"; not true. A life time of personal and family issues lead to harsh mistakes.

MachineMade
34
Points
MachineMade 08/11/12 - 01:38 pm
6
5
To the Policitican that said ...

something to the affect "i'll make criminals pay for their crimes". When a felon is released he/she is looking at parole or probation fees, fines, perhaps classes, perhaps restitution. So a felon looking for a place to stay, a place to eat, a job to go to, and pay these "fees" - what are they to do? What are we going to do? Put them back in jail at $50 a day for a $200 fee??? They will easily be there weeks if not months costing us more than the fee we charge them. We try to get them on their feet to become productive only to slam them back down. And I / WE pay the taxes for it.

dichotomy
37400
Points
dichotomy 08/11/12 - 01:57 pm
8
2
Judge, you are why.

Well Judge Hunstein....jurists like you are EXACTLY WHY we have, and would like to keep, MANDATORY jail sentences. In fact, the problem is that we don't keep them in jail long enough. With judges like you on the bench it's no wonder we are overrun with punks and thugs on the street that have NO FEAR of what is left of our justice system.....and damned if you don't want to do away with what little we have left.

To use your "teen" as an example, a teen that uses a gun to steal a jacket may sound like a confused adolescent, but that teen would also kill for that jacket. And if he gets away with it he just gets bolder and less afraid of pulling the trigger. He should have gotten a minimum 20 years simply because he used a gun. Left to my own judgement, I would have given him 50 years with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

Yes judge Hunstein, it is exactly judges like you who put these little punks back on the street and put the rest of us in jeopardy. As the public continues to arm themselves against the rising tide of punk teen crime you can only blame your lame judicial system for the ones that we kill. YOU should have kept them in jail.

KSL
143478
Points
KSL 08/11/12 - 03:52 pm
11
1
All three of the thugs

All three of the thugs ramming the gun store had felony arrests. The 2 older guys who survive had "multiple felony arrests and convictions." Some people just can't be rehabilitated, no matter how early you get to them, Judge.

HighSociety
1841
Points
HighSociety 08/11/12 - 04:14 pm
8
1
Maybe the nice Judge will be

Maybe the nice Judge will be willing to give all these troubled individuals a place to stay at her house.

MM, Please, the only ones that do time are repeat offenders and that time is short. I don't think not making someone responsible for their actions is the answer. I say build more prisons and bring back the chain gang. I don't have pity for those that choose to live a life of crime.

specsta
7137
Points
specsta 08/11/12 - 06:57 pm
3
10
Wisdom From The Bench

Thank God for wise judges - Chief Justice Hunstein is the sort of judge who understands that our society cannot keep locking people up for minor offenses. Why are we making the for-profit prisons rich? It makes no sense.

Anybody can make a mistake. The only people that need to be locked up are violent offenders. Period. Make everyone else pay a fine, or get treatment or do some sort of community service.

Look at what mandatory minimums have accomplished - absolutely NOTHING - except for the creation of a school (jail or prison) where young offenders learn the finer art of robbing, killing and raping, courtesy of the taxpayers.

This country treats prisoners like they are animals. We should be ashamed of ourselves. If a person did not commit a violent crime, why should they share a cell with some murdering rapist who has no remorse? It is just stupid, stupid, stupid for us to allow this level of incarceration, over 2 million of our citizens. We are number one in the world for locking people up. Shame on America!

MachineMade
34
Points
MachineMade 08/11/12 - 08:26 pm
3
8
More Prisons Not The Answer...

and never will be. And HS you miss read my comments - violent and predatory felons should see harsh sentences. Those crimes less than that should be punished but prison is not the 'total' answer. Our country's economy will continue to stumble under the weight of our penal system. We must be compassionately human in our approach. When we cease this, we have to answer why are we here? Judges see this. Those that work in corrections see this. Those up for election can't see it.

onlysane1left
223
Points
onlysane1left 08/11/12 - 10:34 pm
3
5
"....jurists like you are

"....jurists like you are EXACTLY WHY we have, and would like to keep, MANDATORY jail sentences. In fact, the problem is that we don't keep them in jail long enough."

"Maybe the nice Judge will be willing to give all these troubled individuals a place to stay at her house."

I highlight these two quotes because the more you keep people in jail the more it costs us, the taxpapers, and since you like limited government, that would be more taxes to house, clothe and care, for these individuals who are in custody of the state! Next, if she doesn't care for them, we will, since they will be in jail; so, do you want to pay for their care in prison, or try to help them be an fruitful part of society.

Seems to me, that any time people who live in the less desirable parts of town are mentioned, there is an ideal that they there are lesser people than the ones of other parts of town........

HighSociety
1841
Points
HighSociety 08/11/12 - 11:20 pm
9
0
There are consequences for

There are consequences for every decision we make in life.

KSL
143478
Points
KSL 08/12/12 - 08:55 am
7
3
Spec, if we are number 1 in

Spec, if we are number 1 in the world for locking people up, we have to be high on the ladder for having a segment of society that fail miserably at child rearing. You tell us what we should be doing to fix the results of the aforementioned problem. I never see one word written by you about the parent(s) that are responsible for bringing more and more people into the world who look to others to provide them with basic needs through theft from the taxpayers or directly from their fellow citizens.

JRC2024
10389
Points
JRC2024 08/12/12 - 09:37 am
5
0
Specsta, If it is stupid to

Specsta, If it is stupid to lock up these people then it is even more stupid for the person to commit the crime. We do not treat prisoners as animals. Some live better in prison than out. Just last week I had to remove some material from one of my job sites because the customer had moving vans that were to be on the property. I moved the material to my office and stacked in the yard to take to a different job the next day. And behold, over $500.00 of it was stolen overnight by one of the forgoten ones. You think I have pity for these people. No. The thief knew it was wrong but did not care.

pommom38
1496
Points
pommom38 08/12/12 - 09:55 am
3
1
Hire them, put them up

For all those who are in such agreement with this judge! By all means, take the criminals and house them and put them to work since you think they're such good people.
This judge makes me downright ill with her idiotic views. Your average law abiding citizen doesn't have a college education, no work due to layoffs! So cry me a freaking river!!

gcap
290
Points
gcap 08/12/12 - 11:37 am
3
0
Sentence them to prison...

...and keep them there for the entire term. Otherwise we're saying, "You may now resume your criminal career." Less than five percent of those convicted who participate in programs that excuse incarceration stay clean. Jail time cleans up about 50 percent of them.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 08/12/12 - 12:41 pm
0
1
Sure like to see a citation
Unpublished

Sure like to see a citation on that, gcap!!! Or at least an admission you're making it up.

TheHirschFirm
4
Points
TheHirschFirm 08/12/12 - 01:40 pm
2
2
A judge who understands

Judge Hunstein understands that nothing is gained by disallowing the judges we elect to be exactly that: judges. Mandatory sentences, especially for juveniles, should have no place in our justice system. The current Supreme Court or the United States is one of the most conservative Courts in U.S. history, and even they recognize that juveniles don't have the capacity to act and think like adults. It is now unconstitutional, in violation of the 8th amendment, to sentence juveniles to life without parole.

Judge Hunstein understands that one does not have to leap far to apply the same logic to mandatory minimum sentences in cases like the one she referenced.

Salute to judge Hunstein.

gcap
290
Points
gcap 08/12/12 - 05:01 pm
2
0
Palmetto,

I got that info from the sheriff of R.C. He was angered that law enforcement has to arrest the same bums over and over. I can't cite any academic research but likely would not believe them. I believe the sheriff.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 08/12/12 - 06:19 pm
0
2
That figures, gcap. Continue
Unpublished

That figures, gcap. Continue on.

Patty-P
3520
Points
Patty-P 08/12/12 - 06:26 pm
2
0
Sure get tired of the teary

Sure get tired of the teary eyes for the criminals. Why no teary eyes for the victims? I say for nonviolent criminals there could be alternatives, but for anyone who commits a crime that is 'invasive': burglary, robbery, destruction of property and of course violent crimes like rape, murder, etc...there should be mandatory jail time. That is because these type criminals for the most part will almost always repeat their crimes and someone, somewhere will fall victim to their crimes. Our society is slowly breaking down. I see crime and murder becoming more widespread in the future.

corgimom
38312
Points
corgimom 08/12/12 - 07:33 pm
1
0
Yeah, that 17 year old was a

Yeah, that 17 year old was a Sunday School choir boy until he decided to use a plastic gun to steal somebody's jacket literally off their back. Their terror meant nothing, not to mention they lost their jacket to a common thief. Why didn't the little darling get a JOB and earn the money for a jacket? You know, like honest, decent kids do?

corgimom
38312
Points
corgimom 08/12/12 - 07:35 pm
1
0
That little sociopath was put

That little sociopath was put right where he belonged. He stole the jacket because he didn't think he'd ever get caught and that there would ever be consequences for what he did. Guess he found out different.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 08/12/12 - 07:44 pm
0
1
Exactly, corgimom...that's
Unpublished

Exactly, corgimom...that's how young people think. That's the judge's point.

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