By Mike Klein
Make no mistake, whatever else you think about government, it really digs data. The public sector is littered with data understandable to deep-diving data geeks. Then every so often there is an obscure report that even the little people can understand. Friday Report is one of the very best, a virtual window into Georgia justice data.
Friday Report is published weekly by the state Department of Corrections. In a series of snapshots you can review categories that report weekly data for the previous twelve months and some data back forty-eight months. Other data goes back further to 2000 and even 1993. A long range view that establishes trend lines is more important than any reported shorter time span.
Q: Why does this matter? A: Because this is how you can begin to understand which parts of the criminal justice reform process work and which might need more attention. Remember, it takes at least three years to know whether an entire strategy works. The state already believes it has saved some $20 million because of one strategy that we will mention below.
Some background: Four years ago this month Nathan Deal was a nine-term congressman who had not yet won his party’s nomination for governor. Adult prisons along with pardons and parole cost about $1.3 billion per year with a trend line in the wrong direction. Georgia’s adult incarceration population was roughly equal to everyone who lives in Marietta, more than 56,000, and one-in-thirteen adult Georgians were locked down or under other corrections jurisdiction.
It was ugly. The state had not fully reconsidered criminal justice in almost two decades.
Deal is a former juvenile court judge. His desire to reform criminal justice strategy dominated the start of his 2011 Inaugural Address as the incoming Governor said, “It costs about three million dollars per day to operate our Department of Corrections. And yet, every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of perpetrators are juveniles.”
Deal established a criminal justice reform commission to understand the data, change the big picture and perhaps the results. This is where the Friday Report becomes a pretty slick virtual window into justice data for anyone who wonders whether the policies might be working.
County sheriffs argued for years that their jails were over burdened with thousands of inmates awaiting placement in overcrowded state prisons. Sheriffs also said compensation received for those inmates was inadequate. The state paid $26.5 million to counties to house state inmates in 2011, before the first reforms. By last year that state cost was reduced to $3.8 million.
When you look at Friday Report you can see how that happened. The state says it had about 5,000 inmates holding in county jails in January, 2011 when Deal announced a criminal justice reform initiative. Today that number is slightly more than 500 state inmates. More than 400 females were held in local jails in February, 2013; last week that number was down to 37.
Friday Report does not attempt to answer every question you might have about incarceration. It does provide an every Friday reliable virtual window into Georgia justice data. Perfect for your Memorial Day weekend reading on the back porch. Enjoy!
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is our state’s leading organization promoting government transparency. The Secretary of State’s office shares the Foundation’s commitment to transparency and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars, which is why our agency was the first in Georgia to publish its budget and spending data on a public transparency website.