Georgia Approves Aggressive Blueprint for Prisoner Reentry Initiative
Georgia criminal justice reform will push the pedal hard over the next several months with rapid expansion of the state’s prisoner reentry initiative. Millions of federal grant dollars will become seed money for fifteen pilot project sites starting now through the 2017 calendar year. The goal is to give released inmates a better chance to succeed when they go outside the walls.
“If we really want to impact statewide recidivism reduction we’ve got to make sure we are targeting our resources on the right individuals and, by the way, the right interventions as well,” says Jay Neal, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.
The state Council on Criminal Justice Reform voted to approve a three-year prisoner reentry initiative (GA-PRI) when it met this week in Atlanta. The Council also approved a presentation Georgia will make during a Pew Charitable Trusts conference next month in San Diego.
Recidivism is the rate at which prisoners are re-arrested for a felony crime within three years of their prison release. Georgia’s historic rate has hovered at about 30 percent. The GA-PRI goal is to reduce recidivism to 25 percent within two more years and 24 percent within five years.
Last month the U.S. Justice Department said Georgia will receive $6 million over three years to support prisoner reentry. The breakdown is $3 million for recidivism reduction, $1.75 million for faith-based prison in-reach, $750,000 for pardons and parole and $500,000 to improve justice information systems. New employee salaries and benefits will be paid by the federal grants for one year before those positions transition to state budget dollars.
The 2015-year pilot projects are in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. Ten pilot locations have been selected for 2016 and 2017 but not the order in which they will launch before the initiative is expanded statewide by the end of the 2018 calendar year.
Neal describes GA-PRI as “one plan, one strategy” but he also says, “We’re going to see that our local councils are not going to look the same from one site to the next. Reentry plans are not going to be identical because each site has a different set of assets and barriers and gaps and quite frankly, a different set of returning citizens who are coming back as well.”
The heart of this initiative is to provide former offenders with improved health and mental health services, housing and employment opportunities, training and more consistent positive contact. Neal warned the council that Georgia should not waste “an incredible opportunity’ to build upon some of the early successes since GA-PRI launched about one year ago.
The Pew National Conference on Justice Reinvestment will be held in November in San Diego. Georgia will discuss the impact of reforms before and since the Council was created in 2011. Adult criminal justice, juvenile justice and prisoner reentry policies were addressed in the 2012 – 2014 legislatures. Here is some of the data Georgia will present:
• Adults in custody declined from 60,818 in 2007 to 56,203 in 2014.
• Adults on probation increased from 142,663 in 2007 to 165,494 in 2014.
• Adults on parole increased from 20,823 in 2007 to 25,195 in 2014.
• The adult violent offender population increased from 60% in 2007 to 68% in 2014.
• The adult non-violent offender population decreased from 40% in 2007 to 32% in 2014.
• County jail backlog expenditures declined from $25 million in 2012 to $40,000 in 2014 after the statewide adoption of mandatory electronic sentencing packages.
• County jail populations are down from 94% capacity in 2010 to 78% capacity in 2014.
The Council agenda for November includes discussion on several possible recommendations:
• Creation of a juvenile justice “data dictionary” to ensure common language is used.
• Standardization of juvenile court data exchanges to create uniformity across the state.
• Adoption of a universal school discipline code to standardize juvenile discipline.
• More discussion about community-based juvenile detention alternatives.
• A hard focus on adult misdemeanor private probation transparency proposals.
• Potential changes to “life without parole” for non-violent recidivist drug offenders.
• Clarifications to criminal records expungement under the adult “First Offender Act”.
• Other topics could also be placed on the agenda.
The Council will schedule at least one December meeting before issuing its final report that is due to Governor Nathan Deal before the General Assembly returns on January 12, 2015.
(Mike Klein is a journalist who has held management and content leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)
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