Georgia jails have empty beds after state reduced sentences

Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 7:39 PM
Last updated 9:33 PM
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ATLANTA — Changes in Georgia laws last year that lightened the sentences for many non-violent crimes is resulting in empty jail bunks across the state, Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told legislators Wednesday.

There was hardly any objection last year when lawmakers in this traditionally tough-on-crime state voted to relax the sentences for crimes like check forgery and simple burglary. The measure also created local “accountability courts” in which addicts and those suffering from mental illness get intensive supervision and treatment while living at home rather than prison time.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a former judge and prosecutor, championed the sentencing reform as a way to avoid the cost of ever-expanding prisons.

Owens said Wednesday that Deal’s strategy is beginning to work. Of the 37,000 beds available for inmates in county jails across Georgia, 10,000 of them are vacant, he told a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

“I’ve never seen before a situation where over 10,000 county jail beds are empty,” he said. “Clearly, something is happening in this state.”

County jails are the first stop for convicts headed to state prison. But the reduced flow of prisoners hasn’t yet shrunk the state’s prison population which has ballooned 33 percent in the last decade to 58,000 inmates. The law didn’t affect sentences for existing convicts.

Still, Owens predicted the need for new prisons is disappearing.

“I think the future for us looks bright,” he said.

One dark cloud on the horizon, though, is the increased proportion of violent inmates in state prisons as the non-violent are given lesser penalties. Nearly two out of three prisoners are classified as violent today, and that will grow, making the guards’ jobs even more dangerous. About a quarter of the guards quit their jobs every year.

The turnover rate is twice that in juvenile facilities, Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles told the committees.

“High turnover creates stress on the remaining staff,” he said. “In other words, turnover creates turnover.”

Deal is pushing reforms for the juvenile laws with the same reasoning as the adult reforms last year. His budget calls for transferring some funds from the Department of Juvenile Justice next year to help counties establish local programs for supervising and counseling troubled youths.

That legislation has yet to be introduced but is expected to be among the major issues before the General Assembly this year. Even though it will likely go through the judiciary committees, the lawmakers on the appropriations committees are interested because they hope it will make their job easier balancing the overall state budget.

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Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 01/24/13 - 08:59 am
3
0
MishMash

Once again we get a hodgepodge of sloppy reporting from Walter Jones. He tells us there are 37,000 beds available for inmates in county jails across Georgia, and 10,000 of them are vacant. Good start. But then he tells us there are 58,000 inmates in state prisons at this time. What he leaves out is, “How many beds are available for inmates in state prisons across Georgia?” The reading public cannot make sense of your story if you omit some of the critical information.

Assuming the state prisons are overcrowded, it would be a good idea for county jail officials to rent out their unused beds and house state prisoners there. That way, they would not release so many prisoners early, such that they go back to terrorizing the population. Many of the violent crime perpetrators here in the CSRA are repeat offenders — felons who have been let out early because of prison overcrowding.

dichotomy
34470
Points
dichotomy 01/24/13 - 09:06 am
3
0
Surprise surprise. If you

Surprise surprise. If you make a law that says you are not going to lock up criminals, it should be no surprise that the prison population goes down.

Now, how about giving us the statistics on the number of incidents of shoplifting and other "non-violent" crimes since they are no longer a "real" crime and there is no fear of going to jail. Let's hear both sides of the equation.

Walter Jones
18
Points
Walter Jones 01/24/13 - 09:32 am
1
1
There are no vacant bunks in

There are no vacant bunks in state prisons. While I omitted that detail, I did note that the new law has not yet reduced the state's prison population.

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 01/24/13 - 09:44 am
2
0
Crime Reporting

Most of the violent crimes reported in the Chronicle for the CSRA in which a perpetrator is caught turn out to have been committed by a felon released early from state prison.

Keep these people in those empty county jail beds instead of releasing them early.

soapy_725
43757
Points
soapy_725 01/24/13 - 09:49 am
0
0
Smoke and mirrors.
Unpublished

Tell the sheeple that you are saving them tax money by not housing as many "non violent criminals" while returning thieves, burglars and dope dealers to the streets to steal from the taxpayers. The STATE steals your money or they allow criminals to roam the streets to steal your money. Then there is the "revolving door" of so called criminal prosecution and all of the revenue it generates. The war on crime has become the "war of winning the hearts and minds of the felons".

GiantsAllDay
9863
Points
GiantsAllDay 01/24/13 - 11:47 am
3
0
Not sending people to jail

Not sending people to jail just means more $$$ for the for-profit probation services.

Little Lamb
46976
Points
Little Lamb 01/24/13 - 12:17 pm
1
0
Hmmm

Good point, Giants. I wonder if Gov. Deal has investments in these private probation companies?

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 01/24/13 - 03:15 pm
0
0
Crime=Time(in jail or prison)

I hope Governor Deal , the Corrections Commissioner, and law enforcement in general, are ready for more of the those burglars, check thieves and forgers, etc, to be shot and killed by more armed and ready home owners. These so-called non violent offenders are only a step away from committing REAL "life and death" crimes. Hey, big shots, "the blood will be on your hands"!!

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