Mike Klein Online

Speaker Ralston: State Prison Inmate Population Can Be Reduced 50%

Mike Klein

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston predicted significant criminal justice reform could reduce the state adult prison population by perhaps half and he said a resolution to HOPE scholarship funding might be near.  Ralston discussed two of the state’s most pressing financial challenges during a sold-out Atlanta Press Club luncheon on Thursday at The Commerce Club.

Ralston spoke about criminal justice reform one day after Governor Nathan Deal said a special council will make recommendations to reduce the $1 billion per year that Georgia now spends on adult corrections.  The Governor opened the door to serious consideration of mental health, DUI and drug courts along with day-reporting centers and mandatory sentencing changes.

Georgia currently incarcerates about 60,000 adults.  Governor Deal did not estimate how many non-violent offenders could be handled in other settings when he spoke Wednesday but one day later Ralston said, “I think with the right reforms we could reduce our prison population by half.  It’s long past due and I look forward to that conversation moving forward.”

The House Speaker also said, “We’re frankly locking a lot of people up who really don’t need to be in prison because they are more of a threat to themselves than they are to others.  It’s time now to have the courage to say we’re going in a new direction.  We’re going in a new direction.”

Speaker David Ralston

Ralston described the HOPE scholarship as a “victim of its own success” which was negatively impacted by more bright kids, tuition increases and Georgia Lottery revenue that flattened out.  Expenses already are greater than revenue and reserves could be exhausted next year.

HOPE was conceived to help place more students in higher education but Ralston said, “We added a lot of bells and whistles that weren’t there in 1992 and the bill has come due.”  Pre-K programs may be among those bells and whistles; they were not in the original legislation.

Ralston did not predict how HOPE would be saved or when a proposal would be ready.  “I think it’s going to be much, much sooner rather than later …We are very, very close to being able to announce a proposal that I think Georgians will recognize immediately is realistic and is fair.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

 

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February 17, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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