Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform Report Released

Mike Klein, GPPF Forum Editor

This morning Governor Nathan Deal’s office has released the long-awaited Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations.  Here is Governor Deal’s accompanying statement:

“The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform has exceeded expectations by delivering a comprehensive, serious and well-crafted report. I joined members of the General Assembly in asking this council to provide us with a starting point. We still have a long way to go in this process, as my office engages with legislators and concerned Georgians on where we go from here. Obviously, the council has provided us with an in-depth study and recommendations. One of those recommendations I have already agreed to: I will sign an executive order to keep a council intact so that it can continue to provide input on this important topic. We have an amazing opportunity to save lives as well as tax dollars. While we’ll never shrink from our duty to protect the public from dangerous criminals, we know that alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders suffering from addiction or mental illness produces much better results. Let’s get to work on promoting recovery and rehabilitation rather than a system that simply hardens criminals.”

Here is a link to the complete report:  Special Council on Corrections Reform Report

Here is the complete Executive Summary:

Criminal Justice Reform Process
Seeking new ways to protect public safety while controlling the growth of prison costs, the 2011 Georgia General Assembly passed HB 265 to establish the inter-branch Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians (Council). Beginning in the summer of 2011, the Council members began a detailed analysis of Georgia’s sentencing and corrections data and solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders to identify ways to improve public safety for the citizens of Georgia. The Council used that information to develop tailored policy options, including proposals that would invest a portion of any savings from averted prison spending into evidence-based strategies to improve public safety by strengthening probation and parole supervision and reducing recidivism.

Cost of Doing Nothing
During the past two decades, the prison population in Georgia has more than doubled to nearly 56,000 inmates. As a result, Georgia has one of the highest proportions of adult residents under correctional control. This growth has come at a substantial cost to Georgia’s taxpayers. Today the state spends more than $1 billion annually on corrections, up from $492 million in FY 1990. Yet despite this growth in prison, Georgia taxpayers haven’t received a better public safety return on their corrections dollars: the recidivism rate has remained unchanged at nearly 30 percent throughout the past decade. If current policies remain in place, analysis indicates that Georgia’s prison population will rise by another 8 percent to reach nearly 60,000 inmates by 2016, presenting the state with the need to spend an additional $264 million to expand capacity.

Opportunities for Reform
The Council’s analysis revealed that inmate population growth is due in large part to policy decisions about who is being sent to prison and how long they stay. The data shows that drug and property offenders represent almost 60 percent of all admissions. Importantly, many of these offenders are identified as lower-risk. In 2010, Georgia courts sent more than 5,000 lower-risk drug and property offenders to prison who have never been to prison before, accounting for 25 percent of all admissions. Looking more closely at drug admissions, more than 3,200 offenders are admitted to prison each year on a drug possession conviction (as opposed to a sales or trafficking conviction), and two-thirds of these inmates are assessed as being a lower-risk to re-offend.

The Council also identified several challenges to the state’s ability to effectively supervise offenders on probation and parole and provide interventions that can reduce the likelihood of re-offending. Since 2000, Georgia’s felony probation population has grown by 22 percent to 156,000 and the state’s parole population has grown by 9 percent to 22,000. Currently, probation and parole agencies operate effective programs using evidence-based tools to identify and supervise higher risk offenders. But the Council’s analysis shows that these options are limited and supervision agencies do not have the resources required to supervise offenders adequately. With greater investment in these and other programs and expansion to additional sites to serve more offenders, the state can reduce recidivism and create viable sentencing options for judges that can achieve better public safety outcomes at a lower cost.

Policy Options
This report provides analysis and options for policymakers to consider. These policy options increase public safety and avert the growth currently projected for the state’s prison population. The Council considered these recommendations and options and, despite not reaching consensus on every one, agreed to forward the report to the legislature for consideration and action in the 2012 legislative session.

The Council recommends that where potential savings are achieved, a portion should be reinvested into those options proven to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. These include expanding the availability of drug and other accountability courts and strengthening community supervision. The Council also recommends investing in effective information and performance measurement systems.

Many of the policy proposals in this report focus on improving community-based supervision, sanctions and services as well as other practices proven to reduce recidivism, which are essential to improving public safety. Some of these proposals will require investment by the state. In order to allow for this reinvestment, the policy proposals in this report provide the legislature with options to avert much if not all of the projected growth in the prison population and corresponding costs over the next five years.

End Executive Summary

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