Criminal Justice Reform Legislative Post-Game

By Ross Coker

As the dust settles from the 2017 legislative session, among the legislation heading to the Governor’s desk are three significant criminal justice reform-related measures initiated in the Senate.

The first, Senate Bill 174, focuses on Georgia’s Accountability Court system and grants more intelligent leeway to use measures that they might feel are appropriate on a case-by-case basis. For example, the legislation would allow the Board of Community Supervision to offer educational or skills-based programs to those on probation to encourage gainful employment and reintegration into society.

The bill also sets up the creation of a certificate to be issued to those who complete reentry programs, marking a readiness to reenter society as a productive citizen. SB 174 also augments peer review and oversight for veteran court divisions in the state.

Perhaps most significant in SB 174 is the portion that tackles head-on the elephant in the room of Georgia criminal justice reform: Georgia’s bloated rate of probation and parole. It provides more options to streamline the system and prevent cyclical returns to the system for failures to pay fines or make appearances, in part by allowing judges to use community service as a tool to waive fine requirements, and waive payment requirements altogether if the court finds a significant hardship.

Senate Bill 175 addresses juvenile courts, and judges’ ability to issue judgments more finely tuned to the welfare and rehabilitation of children, especially those who might have committed a crime. It does so by means of allowing the judge to encourage parental involvement or,  alternatively, to detain juvenile offenders for longer than currently allowed if they are deemed a threat to the public.

Senate Bill 176  offers a lower-cost alternative to those who commit a minor traffic-related violation and fail to appear in court. Currently, this results in further fines and penalties that could spiral into a more serious entanglement with the justice system.

We will continue to offer updates as these bills go before Governor Deal for his signature, as well as any other developments in Georgia criminal justice reform.

Ross Coker is Director of Research and Outreach of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (March 31, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.