ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he wants to continue reforming Georgia’s criminal justice system with a focus on helping inmates transition back into society.
Deal became emotional during a speech to the Atlanta Press Club as he talked about getting to know inmates who provide catering services at the governor’s mansion during special events.
He said he plans to ask the state’s criminal justice reform commission, which has worked on reforming the adult and juvenile justice systems, to work on helping prisoners make it on the outside.
“If you don’t want them to come back to prison, you are going to need to create a situation where they won’t, in effect, be forced to go back to prison,” Deal said. “If they can find employment, if they can find a place to live, I believe many of them will work hard to earn their place in society.”
Deal said he has tried to help find post-release work for some of the inmates who serve food at official banquets and also do yard maintenance.
“They work hard. They appreciate the opportunity for a chance in life again,” Deal said. “People who have seen the dead end that crime leads to but are willing to work their way back out of it, I think, deserve the chance to do so.”
Deal said efforts should include expanding educational opportunities for inmates and job training.
Last year, the commission worked on reforms aimed at reducing costs and repeat offender rates, while also offering greater flexibility to judges on sentencing. This year, Deal is expected to sign a bill with similar goals for the juvenile justice system.
The juvenile justice reform effort emphasizes community-based programs over residential detention centers for nonviolent youth offenders and mental health and drug counseling. The juvenile reforms are estimated to save the state nearly $28 million between now and 2015 and allow the state to drop plans to build two additional secure residential detention facilities.
“We had been a state, like many states, that had the hard-on-crime approach with very little flexibility built into the system,” Deal said. “We recognized that if you were objective about the issue that we were not achieving the results that people expected.”
The governor covered several topics during his speech. On the Port of Savannah, Deal said the state would consider moving forward with plans to deepen the harbor while waiting for the federal government to kick in its portion.
“It is possible. Would it be preferable? No. It would be preferable to get more than the $1.28 million that was in the president’s budget this year and we’re going to continue to press on that,” Deal said.