Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.
The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.
Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:
Adult Misdemeanor Probation
Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.
The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.
Juvenile Justice Information Sharing
Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.
Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.
Department of Community Supervision
Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world. The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.
The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CCJR report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.
The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.
(Mike Klein has written about Georgia criminal justice reform since 2010. He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Mike on LinkedIn.)
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.)
Georgia was already doing nearly as well as or better than other southern states in two categories – prisoner health care real cost dollars and the percentage of max out inmates released without supervision – even before the state began to implement criminal justice reform four years ago, according to two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project.
An adult inmate health care report published Tuesday analyzed percentage increases and actual dollars spent per adult inmate for all states during the five-year period 2007 through 2011. Pew said the median increase for all states was 10 percent with Georgia at just five percent. California had the greatest percentage increase – 42% – and the highest per inmate annual cost — $14,495. Georgia spent $4,018.
One reason for increased health care cost is older inmates … there are more of them and five years ago more states began to count and report the number of inmates age 55 and older. In that regard there is now more data to analyze and compare than existed earlier than 2009.
Southern states as a group spent less per person on adult inmate health care than did states in other regions. Seven of the eleven lowest spending states are from the South. Florida did not make the bottom eleven in terms of dollars spent but Florida showed a four percent decrease. South Carolina reported no percentage increase and actual spending was ranked 49th lowest.
Tennessee reported arguably the worst results by a southern state with actual spending up 16 percent to $6,388 per inmate. North Carolina spending rose two percent to $6,287 per inmate. For a different context on those taxpayer dollars, Tennessee and North Carolina both spent about 50 percent more per person than Georgia for adult inmate health care.
Max out inmates serve complete sentences – usually longer rather than shorter sentences – before release into the community. Pew studied state-by-state data for 115,000 max out inmates released from state prisons during 2012 without any planned supervision. Georgia reported 3,436 max out inmate releases with no supervision plan which was 19.2 percent of all Georgia prisoners released during 2012.
Georgia was a bit lower than the 21.5 percent average for all states nationally and much lower than its bordering states. Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida released between 30 and 64 percent of their inmates without any planned supervision.
Arkansas released five percent without supervision but Arkansas releases were low at slightly more than 300 inmates. Texas by comparison released almost 11,300 inmates without planned supervision, but those former felons were less than 14 percent of all Texas inmate releases.
Adam Gelb is director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Performance Project.
“We shouldn’t have inmates leaving our prisons, where they are under lock and key 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and returning to their communities with zero supervision, accountability or support.,” said Gelb. “That’s not common sense, and it flies in the face of research that public safety is better served when offenders undergo a period of supervision.”
Max out strategies are one focus of the ongoing Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
(Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014)
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Anyone of a certain generation – yeah, that would be my generation – will recognize that famous line from “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 film about southern prison warden Strother Martin and his young prisoner Paul Newman. Eight little words strung together became one of the most famous lines ever spoken in American film history.
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” could also describe the failure by thirteen states to measure juvenile recidivism, including three of Georgia’s southern neighbors. Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky do not measure and report juvenile recidivism rates. Therefore, they do not have cumulative data about how often juveniles re-appear in the juvenile system or enter the adult corrections system.
Georgia is among those states that have the very best record, according to “Measuring Juvenile Recidivism” published by the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Georgia tracks juveniles at twelve, twenty-four and thirty-six month intervals. Georgia also monitors whether they enter the adult system. Georgia fully reports its results and the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform has given a high profile to measuring adult and juvenile risk assessment and results.
How do other southern states compare? North Carolina and Louisiana track juveniles for thirty-six months, Mississippi tracks only until they turn age 18, and Florida checks their status at six months and twelve months. South Carolina follow-up ends after twelve months and Arkansas tracks juveniles only while they are on parole on under state commitment.
The Pew survey found 33 states report annual, quarterly or monthly data, including Georgia. Five states report data only if there is a special request. Eleven state juvenile justice agencies share information with the executive and legislative branches of state government and just 28, barely more than half of all states, make their information available to the public.
Ten other states that do not measure and report juvenile recidivism are Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Only Virginia and Maine received a positive check in all eleven categories reported by Pew. Georgia received positive check marks in nine of eleven categories. Click the link in this paragraph to read the entire table.
Georgia justice reform is all about reducing recidivism. The 2013 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform cited three-year recidivism rates for juveniles released from custody in 2007. The Council said 53 percent of all juveniles and 65 percent of those sentenced to a detention facility were adjudicated for a new juvenile crime or charged with an adult crime within three years. That is far worse than the adult system which has a 33 percent recidivism rate.
Pew worked closely with Georgia on 2011 adult and 2012 juvenile justice reforms that were enacted by the state Legislature. Pew had a smaller role during the past twelve months when the state focused attention on re-entry which is the transition of a released inmate to civilian life. The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators worked with Pew on the juvenile recidivism report.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
(Published Thursday, June 19, 2014)
Federal juvenile justice officials have noticed Georgia’s aggressive reforms and must like what they see because Washington is offering to pony up hundreds of thousands of new dollars to help the state implement ongoing juvenile reforms. On Monday the U.S. Justice Department said it could make up to $600,000 available this year, with similar offers in Hawaii and Kentucky.
The announcement said implementation grant funds would be used “to strengthen diversion and community-based options that will reduce their out-of-home population, avert millions of dollars in otherwise anticipated correctional spending, reduce recidivism and protect public safety. OJJDP applauds the efforts of Hawaii, Kentucky and Georgia and is committed to supporting states that undertake comprehensive juvenile justice reform.”
OJJDP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice. Georgia has partnered with technical assistance expert organizations during adult and juvenile justice reforms including the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Vera Institute. Their role generally is data research and analysis. Essentially, these organizations help you understand what the facts are, what they mean and the possible options and paths ahead.
Georgia adult and juvenile justice reforms are modeled on incarcerating serious offenders who pose a public safety risk, creating community-based models for offenders who do not pose a safety risk, and, improving mental health and drug abuse services to individuals who need help.
Georgia wants to stabilize existing incarcerated populations, slow or reverse the rate of growth in those populations and, reduce recidivism which is the re-incarceration rate within three years. Georgia adult offenders have a one-in-three incarceration rate, which is considered a failure.
Governor Nathan Deal started the criminal justice reform process in January 2011 with the appointment of a council to study adult corrections. Lawmakers enacted recommendations from the council in 2012, and they passed juvenile reforms in 2013. The implementation of juvenile reforms began in earnest in January this year, so the process remains in its earliest phase.
The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote this analysis about Georgia juvenile reforms last year.
Private nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning are eligible to apply. The grant window is tight. Grant applications must be submitted not later than July 16, 2014. Click here to learn more about the grant in this U.S. Department of Justice announcement.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
(Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014)
Governor Nathan Deal has raised the ante on civil asset forfeiture reform in Georgia by formally asking the new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform to bring forward its own recommendation – and he means before the General Assembly returns in January.
Ten new members and five holdovers from last year’s Council were told about civil asset forfeiture reform during their initial meeting Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol. Civil asset forfeiture reform was perhaps the most contentious issue in the 2013 General Assembly.
House Bill 1 would have limited the power sheriffs and district attorneys have to seize the assets of people who have been convicted of no crime, convert those assets to cash, and then use the cash essentially however they want to supplement their public budgets.
The legislation was angrily opposed by sheriffs in committee hearings and by district attorneys in more civil dialogue. HB 1 passed committee but never received a House floor vote as sheriffs packed the Capitol in visible – some might say intimidating — opposition to the bill. Technically, HB 1 remains alive and could be called to a floor vote or a new bill could be drafted.
The momentum to again reconsider civil asset forfeiture law began to swing in spring and early summer. Several news media reports asked questions about how some public officials seized personal property and spent civil asset forfeiture funds. Governor Deal suggested another look. House Speaker David Ralston created a study committee. Now the Governor has formally asked the Council on Criminal Justice Reform to weigh in before January.
“We by no means intend to be running counter to the Speaker’s work group,” said Governor’s Office Deputy Executive Counsel Thomas Worthy. “Probably it’s more perfect to say we will be running parallel to that.” Worthy and Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs are co-chairs of the Criminal Justice Reform Council, as they were in 2012. Boggs noted, “There are different schools of thought on that. There are some politics involved and we’ll just deal with it.”
The Criminal Justice Reform Council membership has been significantly rebuilt since last year which reflects its new focus. Gone are prosecutors and folks with expertise on who should be behind bars and how they should be managed inside. The Council is smaller – down from 21 to 15 members — all appointed by Governor Deal. New members were appointed because of their expertise in employment, housing and community-based programs.
Members include executives from Home Depot and Georgia Power, a pastor with experience in community programs and the executive director of a non-profit housing support association. Several members are from outside the Atlanta metropolitan region. The Governor’s Office for Children and Families executive director was appointed. A new Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry was established to coordinate goals and monitor accountability.
The 2011 Council focus on adult reforms emphasized incarceration of violent or repeat serious offenders, and the expansion of accountability courts and treatment for non-violent offenders who would benefit more from mental health or drug counseling than incarceration.
The 2012 Council recommended ending lock-up detention for juvenile status offenders, such as school truants, whose actions would not be crimes if they were adults. The Council pushed for and the Legislature adopted recommendations to expand community-based programs.
Last month the Deal administration announced $4.6 million in state grants for two dozen juvenile court jurisdictions to start or expand community treatment programs. Other juvenile court applications are pending. Total grant dollars available this fiscal year is about $6 million.
“We’ve addressed what we do when (adults or juveniles) are in the system,” Judge Boggs said. “We’re trying to address what we do before they get into the system with the juvenile courts. Think of this as a three-legged stool. Now what are we going to do when they get out?”
Boggs, Worthy, Judge Steve Teske, Judge Jason Deal and Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry are holdover members from the 2012 Council. Here is a link to the Governor’s Office executive order that announced Council membership.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
One of the primary architects of the special council recommendations that became the basis for this year’s juvenile justice reform legislation says the primary reason that thousands of juveniles enter the legal system each year is because they come from dysfunctional families.
“Most of the kids we’re seeing today in most courts are kids in which we have broken families, most of them have single parents, most of those are mothers and there are poor or very weak problem solving skills, not just among the young people but also their parents,” Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation this week.
Last year Governor Nathan Deal added Teske to the reconstituted Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform to capitalize on his expertise. On Thursday, Deal said Teske “is regarded by many people as the true expert on juvenile justice matters” when the Governor was in Dalton to sign HB 242, this year’s massive juvenile justice and civil code rewrite legislation.
”We are seeing more and more parents coming into court saying, I cannot handle my child anymore, I want you to take my child, I want you to do something with my child,” Teske said during an interview after the legislation signing ceremony. “I’ve had some parents … too many parents … demand that I lock their kid up, demand that I commit them to the state.”
Teske has served in the Clayton County juvenile courts since 1999. He is past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and a frequent national speaker on this subject. Teske said Clayton County has reduced juvenile detention commitments 43 percent over ten years but more than half who enter juvenile detention are there because of family dysfunction.
“We are having a lot of low risk kids who have very high needs because of family dysfunction going into these (youth detention centers) with razor wire fences,” Teske said. “They don’t belong here. We’re making them worse, resulting in a 65 percent recidivism rate when they get out.” (Click here to watch my interview with Judge Teske on YouTube.)
Governor Deal’s signature Thursday morning on HB 242 continues a sweeping review that has seen the state literally change its adult and juvenile corrections course in two years. Georgia has traditionally been a hard-on-crime state that emphasized locking people up, mixing hard-core and soft-core inmate populations and giving little thought to successful community re-entry. (Click here to watch the Governor’s remarks on YouTube.)
These criminal justice philosophies were consistent with tough-on-crime standards that became dominant nationally in the 1980’s and 1990’s as politicians responded to what they viewed as the desire of their communities to put criminals away as quickly as possible for as long as possible. What that trend did not recognize was that mental illness, substance abuse and other factors meant this one-size-fits-all approach really did not fit at all.
Therefore, it was not surprising when refined data analysis began to show that adults released from prisons and youths released from detention were coming back at alarming rates. Here in Georgia, the rate was one-in-three adults re-incarcerated within three years and the numbers were even worse for juveniles, one-in-two were re-adjudicated of a juvenile offense or charged with an adult crime within three years.
“If you have one-out-of-three adult offenders return to your prison system within three years you can’t say you are keeping society safe nor (can you say) that you are spending and saving the money of the taxpayers,” Deal said on Thursday in Dalton. The cost to incarcerate one adult inmate is $18,000 per year and much higher in the juvenile sector, about $90,000 per year.
Twenty-eight months after Deal’s inauguration, the state now has in place adult and juvenile justice policies that emphasize incarceration for serious and violent offenders and a range of alternative treatment options for non-violent persons, especially those who have mental illness or substance abuse challenges. In addition, the state is more focused on veterans’ courts.
Overall, the state predicts adult and juvenile justice reforms will save taxpayers $349 million over five years — $264 million in the adult sector and the remainder in juvenile justice. Deal also said Thursday that implementing community-based alternative treatment programs will mean the state should not need to build two new juvenile detention centers.
The next fiscal year budget that kicks in on July 1 includes $5 million in state dollars to help communities start voluntary alternative treatment programs for juveniles. “If we can save money on one end it will allow us to use the money on the front end,” Deal said. He targeted substance abuse and family counseling programs as priorities. “We believe by doing that we can save them early in the process and not have them move into the arena as an adult offender.”
Another feature of this year’s Georgia reforms include a relaxation of adult minimum mandatory sentencing in limited circumstances where judges are given sentencing discretion in some very specific cases, or where judge, prosecutors and defense counsel are in agreement. Deal said it makes sense for the state to avoid imposing “undue and long punishments for folks where the facts certainly don’t justify the mandatory minimum.”
The criminal justice system review that has been underway through the Deal administration will continue long after his tenure as Governor concludes. HB 349 signed last week by Deal creates a new criminal justice council that will remain in place until June 2023. The names of its 15 new members have not been announced by the Governor’s Office.
Clayton County’s Judge Teske also told the Public Policy Foundation he thinks the state should examine the data concerning the number of juveniles who are originally charged in adult courts, but whose cases are transferred to juvenile courts for eventual disposition. “We could save more money and get help to these kids sooner in juvenile court,” Teske said. “I would like to see us start asking these questions as far as continued reforms.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia’s next justice reform priorities will include expanded digital learning in juvenile sectors and increased focus on transitioning paroled adult inmates back into society with more than a few bucks and a bus ticket. Governor Nathan Deal discussed these priorities during an Atlanta speech on Tuesday, two days before he is scheduled to sign juvenile justice reform legislation.
Deal said the state will partner with Provost Academy Georgia to provide digital learning resources to juveniles, starting with some 140 who participate in the Georgia National Guard Youth Challenge programs at Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Stewart in Hinesville.
“These are young men and women who are on the verge of being sent into our juvenile detention system,” Deal said during prepared remarks at the Capital City Club in Atlanta. “We are entering into an agreement with a digital based charter school, Provost, and they are going to be providing the opportunity for these young people to earn a regular high school diploma.” (Click here to watch on YouTube)
Currently, most Youth Challenge juveniles can work toward earning a GED certificate, but not a real high school diploma. Deal predicted the Provost Academy model could be incorporated into the more traditional juvenile justice system which at any point has 22,000 youth either in detention or assigned to a community-based program.
“Young people who have been in trouble have a great deal of difficulty returning to the school which they left before they got in trouble,” Deal told the Atlanta Press Club audience. “All of the social stigma that is associated with it is a huge deterrent for them to just simply drop out.
“If they can take that digital learning opportunity with them back home and they can continue their education without having to physically go back to the school where they have the bad reputation … the chance that they will get a high school diploma and be able to move on with their lives is much greater and we think that is the right thing to do,” the Governor said.
Provost Academy Georgia opened last August with 134 students. Today it serves 1,276 high school students in distance learning structured for independent instruction or blended learning that provides an option to include face-to-face instruction. Provost also operates Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with an Augusta site scheduled to open this month. Provost programs are associated with Edison Learning.
Under the proposed plan, Provost Academy’s initial pilot program will enroll 70 Youth Challenge cadets apiece at Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart, starting in late July, said Provost executive director Monica Henson. “Governor Deal is committed to extending opportunities to needy kids and these are the neediest of the needy,” Henson said. “We really appreciate this opportunity because our mission is to serve historically underserved populations.”
On Thursday, Governor Deal is expected to sign HB 242 that emphasizes incarceration for serious juvenile offenders and less expensive community-based resources for non-violent offenders who are not a public safety risk. These alternative treatment concepts are based on the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. The bill also includes a massive overhaul of the state’s juvenile civil code. Click here to learn more about juvenile justice reform legislation.
Adult and juvenile justice reforms have been central targets for Deal since his inauguration. The 2011 Legislature established the Special Council whose members produced the 2012 adult laws rewrite and now the 2013 juvenile laws rewrite. For Deal, the finished and proposed work is a recognition that Georgia was at least spinning its wheels, if not going backward.
“We have been a state like many states that had been the hard-on crime approach with very little flexibility built into the system,” Deal said in his Atlanta speech. “We recognized if you were objective about the issue that we were not achieving the results that people expected.”
Specifically, one-in-three paroled adults and one-in-two released juveniles return to the criminal or juvenile justice system within three years. “What we were doing was not the right thing,” Deal said. “It did not keep us safe and it did not save taxpayers money. We were spending over $1 billion a year in our corrections programs and yet, nobody could be proud of those results.”
(Click here to learn more about justice reform on the Pew Charitable Trusts website. Click here for the Right on Crime website at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday signed an adult criminal justice reform bill that revises minimum mandatory sentencing laws, expands the state’s right to evidence appeals and creates a new criminal justice reform council that will remain on-the-watch until 2023. In sum, the state will continue to consider criminal justice best practices for another ten years.
The House Bill 349 signing ceremony was held in Marietta where Deal said, “When I first became Governor I was concerned about something that I was told Republicans shouldn’t really be concerned about and that was the fact that we were the tenth largest state in population but that we had the fourth largest prison population.
“We had had a ‘tough on crime’ stance in this state for many years,” the Governor told Kiwanis members, “not that it was inappropriate but in hindsight I felt it was not achieving the results that we wanted.” (Watch Deal’s remarks on YouTube.)
Two years ago Deal and the General Assembly created a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that paved the way for last year’s major overhaul of adult criminal justice policies. The door was opened to alternative courts and other ideas that potentially reduce incarceration for non-violent offenders but enable the state to always securely lock away truly violent offenders.
The legislation that Governor Deal signed Thursday revises mandatory minimum sentencing options for some drug cases when the judge believes circumstances do not warrant imposition of the more severe mandatory minimum sentence. HB 349 also gives judges leeway to impose a lesser sentence in sexual offense and serious violence cases when prosecutors and defense counsel agree circumstances do not warrant the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.
House Bill 349 also changes state law that currently requires prosecutors to prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight. After July 1, the date on which the bill takes effect, police and prosecutors will not be required to prove that a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs. This new drug trafficking prosecution law will then become consistent with simple possession drug laws that passed the General Assembly last year.
On the question of evidence appeals, prosecutors will be allowed a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecution evidence during pre-trial proceedings. This section of HB 349 was not included in the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. Indeed, it was highly emphasized by the state’s district attorneys and it was included after fairly intense back-and-forth negotiations.
“This bill gives us the ability as prosecutors, when we believe the court has incorrectly ruled on an evidentiary issue, to then take that to the appellate court and have it reviewed,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
Some opponents said in legislative hearings that expanded evidence appeals might delay speedy trials. “I don’t believe that’s going to be a huge issue,” Spahos said during an interview. “I don’t believe it’s going to create a large floodgate of appellate cases or interfere with speedy trials.” (Watch the Spahos interview on YouTube .)
Deal will sign juvenile justice reform legislation next week. Like its earlier adult justice system cousin, HB 242 emphasizes community-based local alternative resources for juveniles who are not a public safety threat, underscores the intent to incarcerate violent juveniles and it recreates the state’s antiquated juvenile civil code, especially as it pertains to children in need of services, adoption, dependency cases, parental rights and dozens of other juvenile non-criminal issues.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
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