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Georgia’s New Justice System Agency Would Have Massive Footprint

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed Department of Community Supervision (DCS) would almost certainly open for business as a large state agency with perhaps two thousand or more employees, according to state officials who are familiar with ongoing strategic discussions.

Governor Deal emphasized Georgia’s commitment to adult and juvenile justice system reforms during Monday’s Inaugural Address but he waited until Wednesday’s State of the State speech to announce DCS. Legislation is needed to create the agency; therefore, there is no proposed budget for DCS in the Governor’s Office Fiscal Year 2016 Budget released Friday.

“On many occasions, one troubled family or neighborhood will deal with multiple agencies, from Pardons and Parole to DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) to the Department of Juvenile Justice to the Department of Corrections,” Deal told legislators on Wednesday.

“Under current policy those agencies often don’t coordinate effectively on these cases. This fails to bring a holistic approach to the needs at hand, and it doesn’t deliver services efficiently,” Deal said. “For this reason I am proposing to create the Department of Community Supervision to eliminate redundancy and enhance communication between these related groups.”

Here is what we learned about the potential structure by speaking with justice system officials:

• 1,100 or more adult felony probation officers would transfer from the Department of Corrections (DOC) and 400 or more Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) field officers.
• Georgia adult misdemeanor probation is handled almost exclusively by the private sector; DCS would supervise the approximately 775 probation officers statewide.
• A large number of personnel would transfer from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) but the number is less certain.
• The new agency would require its own commissioner and administration team to include a chief financial officer, human resources team and other typical agency services.
• And: it would need a headquarters with Atlanta being a potential location. Two-of-three contributing agencies – Juvenile Justice and Pardons and Paroles – are located in Atlanta. The Corrections headquarters is in Forsyth but it also has a major Atlanta offices presence.

DCS is a logical step in a comprehensive multi-year justice system strategy that Georgia began to implement in January 2011. Reforms had been underway for many years but often they were not always well-coordinated and there was widespread agreement that a new focus could slow down the growth in adult prisoner populations, reduce or at least stabilize incarceration costs, save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating new prisons construction and give released inmates and probationers better tools to create personal success.

The first step was creation of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform in 2011. The Council has consistently embraced alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders. Accountability courts and community-based programs have given judges more options than just incarceration. Lawmakers passed very similar looking adult reforms in 2012 and juvenile reforms in 2013.

The second step focused on recidivism reduction, that is, the percentage rate at which offenders are charged with a new crime within three years of their initial release. The Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry was founded and is currently housed at DOC in Atlanta. Its mission has been to define problems and articulate potential solutions to challenges that include food, housing, education, employment, transportation and more for released offenders.

Next week the Council on Criminal Justice Reform is expected to recommend that Transition, Support and Re-Entry move to DCS, along with the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council (CMPAC) that oversees adult misdemeanor probation statewide. CMPAC is currently attached to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Community Supervision would become the second agency created during Deal’s administration. The Department of Public Health became a standalone agency when it was separated from the Department of Community Health in July 2011.

(Mike Klein has covered Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms since early 2010.  He has held executive leadership positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and  Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

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January 18, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment