Mike Klein Online

Juvenile Justice Bill Would Revise Designated Felony Act

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgians will need a comfy couch, lots of time and perhaps some caffeine when they begin to read newly introduced juvenile justice and civil code legislation.  Juvenile justice provisions in House Bill 242 include a proposal to completely revise the state’s 32-year-old juvenile designated felony act, a long overdue step forward, by creating two classes of more and less serious juvenile felony crimes.

Juvenile civil code revisions would update laws that govern how juvenile courts operate and the rights of minors in custody and other situations.  The legislation is a comfy couch read at 244 pages.  The juvenile justice sections closely follow the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations, which were released in December.  Civil code updates, many years in progress, originated in HB 641 last year.

“We are light years from where we started from a political and a moral perspective in how we deal with criminal justice in this state for adults and juveniles,” said Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who served as co-chair of the 2012 Special Council initiative.  “We have become smarter in the way we address the enormous cost and the horrible return on investment that our taxpayers are receiving.”

Last year the General Assembly enacted adult corrections system reforms that are now being implemented statewide. This year lawmakers will focus on how to fund more juvenile program resources in local communities, reduce juvenile inmate populations, address mental health and substance abuse treatment challenges, reduce recidivism, and keep a lid on escalating costs.

Georgia’s 1981-version of the juvenile Designated Felony Act included fewer than one dozen crimes, the worst crimes committed by the scariest youth.  Over more than three decades the Act was steadily expanded.  What you have today is a Felony Act that treats accused juvenile murderers about the same as juveniles accused of smash and grab burglaries.  Both are felony crimes.

HB 242 proposes to create a more serious “Class A” and less serious “Class B” structure that would give juvenile court judges greater latitude than they have today, especially in sentencing.  Accused murderers and burglars would no longer be treated alike.  The legislation is extremely detailed with specific crimes that would be considered more or less serious felonies.

If the bill is enacted as introduced, HB 242 would also prohibit the incarceration of status offenders and most juveniles adjudicated for misdemeanor crimes in secure facilities. Other provisions in the bill include focusing the state’s resources on programs proven to reduce recidivism, requiring the use of risk assessment tools, and mandating uniform data collection.

Governor Nathan Deal’s Budget Report also includes an additional recommendation from the Special Council – to create a performance incentive structure to reward jurisdictions with state funds when juvenile courts assign juveniles to community programs rather than incarcerate them in state facilities.  These additional state funds will then be used to create programs in the community to treat juveniles locally.

“This is a very positive step,” said House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, lead sponsor of HB 242.  Governor Deal set aside $5 million in next year’s budget to expand community programs and jump-start new ones.  Some 65 percent of juveniles who do time in secure state facilities are found guilty of a new crime within three years of their release. Willard said the state must try new ways to avoid creating “lifetime criminals.  I think you will see a major savings in childrens’ lives.”

National studies including research compiled for Georgia by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project show that placement in out-of-home facilities does not lower the likelihood of juvenile reoffending and may in fact increase the likelihood of committing a new crime for some offenders.  In fact, lock-ups sometimes produce a more sophisticated offender. This is more acute when youth require mental or substance abuse care.

Legislation proposes that youth adjudicated for a misdemeanor crime could not be sent to state confinement facilities.  They would become candidates for community treatment programs.  By enacting the recommendations of the Special Council, Georgia could reduce its juvenile inmate population by one-third to about 1,200, reinvest savings into local programs and save nearly $85 million over five years.  The result would be lower costs and reduced recidivism – significant improvements for Georgia taxpayers.

Georgia’s juvenile code is considered antiquated, dating back to the early 1970s and subsequently patched over and re-patched many times.  HB 242 would update current laws on dependency proceedings, family reunification, disposition of dependent children, mental health and other care for children in need of services, the emancipation of minors and more.

“We can do a better job of service to these children,” Willard said.

House Judiciary will hold a full committee hearing Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol.  A small number of adult system reforms proposed by the Special Council in its 2012 report will be contained in separate legislation expected next week.  Legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Deal would become law on July 1.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Special Council Will Propose Two Tiers for Juvenile Felonies

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia would establish a two-tiered system for felonies committed by juveniles younger than 18 years old if legislators adopt recommendations contained in a draft report.  The Foundation reviewed a partial draft that the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform is expected to vote on this week.  Importantly, the draft could be revised before Thursday’s meeting.  As currently written, it builds on principles similar to adult criminal justice system reforms enacted this year.

The draft contains a small number of adult system proposals.  Notably, the Council is expected to repeat its 2011 recommendation that judges be allowed to depart from mandatory sentence minimums in some drug trafficking cases and under specific circumstances.  Drug convictions are largely responsible for the explosive growth in state prison populations not just in Georgia but across the country.  The state Legislature did not adopt this recommendation last spring.

When it votes Thursday the 21-member Special Council is expected to recommend that felonies committed by juveniles not be treated equally. The draft said current state law “contains a single dispositional structure for nearly 30 offenses ranging from murder to smash-and-grab burglary.”  Having more than one category would ensure incarceration for convicted serious offenders and it would provide flexibility to address non-violent and low-risk offenders.

This is similar to the 2012 adult corrections system reforms that created more than one tier for crimes such as burglary.  For instance the recommendation that became state law July 1 now differentiates between the burglary of an occupied residence and the burglary of a shed or any unoccupied structure.  The adult code includes similar distinctions for other kinds of crimes.

The newly enacted adult code and the anticipated juvenile code rewrite share several common goals: Foremost, ensure public safety; second, incarcerate serious offenders as required; third, provide treatment and counseling in appropriate settings to non-violent offenders who are considered low-risk to offend; and, fourth, reduce and control unnecessary system expense.

Reducing recidivism has been and continues to be a central focus in these discussions. The Council has reviewed data that shows 65 percent of juveniles released from state confinement return to the juvenile system or enter the adult corrections system within three years of their initial release.  How to vastly reduce that recidivism percentage rate remains a high priority.

The Council is expected to recommend that eight crimes committed by juveniles would become Class “A” felonies subject to the highest levels of prosecution and penalties upon conviction.  Those eight include murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, sodomy, sexual battery, child molestation and aggravated battery.  There would be no Class “B” lesser option.

Aggravated assault is one example in which the Special Council might recommend that the state adopt two tiers of prosecution.  For example, assault with a firearm against any student, teacher or other school system employee would become a Class “A” felony.  Assault on school grounds that did not include use of a firearm would become a lesser Class “B” felony.

Similarly there would be a sharper distinction between the more serious Class “A” hijacking of an occupied vehicle and the less serious Class “B” theft of an unoccupied vehicle.  Drug offenses committed by juveniles would draw a distinction between the most serious charges — sale, manufacturing or delivering drugs – and less serious personal possession charges.  Street gang activity could become either Class “A” or “B” based on contributing circumstances.

The Council is expected to propose that conviction on a Class “A” felony would trigger up to five years of state confinement followed by one year of intense supervision.  Class “B” convictions would trigger 18 months maximum confinement, up to 18 additional months in a Department of Juvenile Justice program, and then six months of mandatory supervision.

About one dozen recommendations would affect how prosecutors, judges, treatment providers and others do their work with an emphasis on improved models to evaluate juveniles, manage their cases, make certain courts have all relevant information and help offenders return to the community upon release.  Similar to this year’s adult reforms there is language about reinvesting cost-based savings back into local community programs.

The council did not address dozens of juvenile code laws that are considered outdated including adoption, guardianship, terminating parental rights and children in need of services.  All 246 pages of House Bill 641 – a juvenile code rewrite — passed unanimously last spring but the Senate did not vote amid questions about cost.  This might resurface in 2013 session legislation.

Special Council recommendations are due to Governor Nathan Deal and the General Assembly leadership before year-end.  The Legislature is not bound by law to accept any idea and it can create a bill that goes beyond the ideas that originate with the Special Council.  The council received technical assistance from the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

December 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia State Inmates Backlog in Local Jails is Significantly Down

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

What you are about to read is a big deal:  Georgia has significantly reduced the number of state custody male inmates sitting in local county jails.  Georgia corrections commissioner Brian Owens made the announcement this week during a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform meeting in Forsyth.  His comment so surprised judges, legislators, prosecutors and others that several let out a huge gasp.

“As a result of the legislation and your recommendations, today we have zero males … zero males … in county jails waiting to come into the state system,” Owens said.  “We have about 200 females but we’re going to address that come January and February.  We’ll be able to get the females out. That is huge to local budgets for our county sheriffs.”

County jails have historically been the default option when state probation detention centers are overcrowded.  County jails held 315 male state inmates and 302 females in July who were awaiting placement in a probation detention center.  Overflow issues were addressed last year by the Special Council and the 2012 General Assembly.  State law changed on July 1 to specify that offenders could spend no more than 180 days in a probation detention center.

This change pertains to felony offenders who were sentenced to not less than one year on probation or specific categories of misdemeanor offenders who subsequently violated probation terms.  After confinement for 180 days eligible offenders who are not considered a risk to public safety may be considered for transfer into probation and community supervision programs. Also, this pertains only to offenders who were awaiting placement in a probation detention center.  Local jails still hold some other state inmates.

This week’s Special Council meeting provided a glimpse into the implementation of reforms proposed one year ago and enacted by the 2012 General Assembly in House Bill 1176.  There has been substantial progress in electronic record keeping.  New substance abuse and mental health treatment centers and day reporting centers have opened.  A program to help long-term inmates transition back into the community will launch in January.

“Talking about electronic sentencing, today 156 of 159 counties are transmitting sentences electronically to the Department of Corrections which is huge, again, a direct result of 1176,” Owens said.  More than 5,660 state inmates from 110 counties had their sentences transmitted electronically to the state.  Forty-six additional counties have agreed to use electronic reporting while just three counties – Cobb, Fayette and Jefferson – are currently not participating,

Probation detention centers are being redesigned.  This year the Appling, Pike and Turner county detention centers were converted into residential substance abuse treatment centers.  Appling and Turner can also provide mental health services for men.

The number of day reporting centers that provide more intense substance abuse treatment at a lower cost than incarceration will expand to 15 next month when a Lookout Mountain circuit center opens in north Georgia.  Corrections opened a day reporting center in July in Savannah.  Offenders who do not comply with day reporting requirements are considered to be in violation of probation terms and they could find themselves returned to incarceration.

House Bill 1176, the criminal justice reform law, reduced some drug possession and theft maximum sentences from 60 to 38 months as of July 1 this year, the date legislation became effective.  On its own initiative the parole board reviewed 600 earlier sentences for possible reductions. State parole board member Robert E. Keller told the Council, “We changed our decisions in 191 offenders which netted a savings of 32,000 bed days and about $1.5 million.”

Last year the Special Council asked that the state rethink how it transitions long-term inmates before they are released back into the community.  Two years ago 7,495 offenders released from prisons had no parole officer; 1,592 had no probation officer. These are so-called max out prisoners who served the longest possible sentences after their convictions.  Next month about 1,000 long-term prisoners who are scheduled for release before March 2014 will be assigned to a program to help prepare them for transition back into the real world.

Parole officers will focus on their housing and employment options along with health and other services offenders will require upon their final release.   Eligible offenders will be moved from prisons into transition centers during the final 12 months of incarceration.  Offenders will sleep at the transition centers, be required to work and will surrender their earnings to cover costs.  This is a dramatic step forward from receiving $25 and a bus ticket upon release.

Next Thursday the Special Council is expected to vote on a new package of juvenile justice and adult corrections proposals.  Those will be sent to Governor Nathan Deal and it is anticipated that the 2013 General Assembly will consider and implement some new proposals.  The juvenile system, for example, has not been seriously overhauled in about 25 years.  The proposals will not be set in stone; legislators will be able to modify ideas submitted by the Special Council.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

(This article was republished by Right on Crime which is a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.)






December 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Council on Criminal Justice Turns its Attention to the Kids

Mike Klein

One challenge in almost every policy discussion is how to make the numbers mean something.  So, let’s hope these numbers mean something.  The annual cost to fully incarcerate someone in Georgia’s juvenile detention system is $98,000 per bed, more than five times greater than adult prison system per person costs.  On the other hand, the state share is about $4,300 per pupil in the K-12 public school system.  One is an investment in the future. The other is simply shocking.

“Where is that money going?  Where is that $98,000?”  That question – asked rhetorically – was among several posed this week when the newly reconstituted Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform held its first meeting to consider a vast rewrite of the state juvenile code.  The Council retained all 13 members whose work helped to craft ideas for this year’s adult criminal justice system reforms, and it added eight new members, several with juvenile code expertise.

The Council is also expected to consider some unfinished business from the 2012 adult system reforms; in particular, more work on earned compliance credits, mandatory minimum safety valve sentencing ideas, and possible decriminalization of some traffic offenses.  But make no mistake about it; the main course on this year’s menu will be juvenile justice reform.

“States across the country including Georgia are facing very high per child costs in the juvenile system,” Pew Center on the States public safety analyst Jason Newman told the Council.  Part of the reason for higher per person expense is the juvenile system has costs that are not found in the adult system.  For example, mandatory education and especially special education which is costly.

Newman also told the Council, “Most states are not getting very good outcomes.”  That includes Georgia; 45 percent of juveniles who serve time in secure facilities commit another crime within three years.  They return to the juvenile system, or after age 18 show up in the adult system.

This year the General Assembly nearly enacted a package of significant juvenile reforms.  A bill that unanimously passed the House (HB 641) was sidelined because of questions about state expense and how local communities would afford services they would be asked to provide.  The bill has existed in various forms for about five years, with lots of stakeholder contributions.

The Special Council faces a December 31 deadline to submit its recommendations to Governor Nathan Deal.  A new bill is expected in the 2013 Legislature.  The Council will again receive technical assistance from the Pew Center and this new venture is joined by the Annie E. Casey Foundation which has decades of juvenile code expertise.

There is a great deal more to this conversation than questions about incarceration or expansion of community-based alternatives, similar to the path being implemented in the adult system.  For example, the juvenile code as envisioned in HB 641 would address juveniles who are unruly, but their actions would not be crimes as adults.  Some Council members indicated they want to learn more about how to decide whether 17-year-old offenders should be treated as juveniles or adults.

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice will spend $300 million this fiscal year.  That will pay for seven Youth Development Campus facilities where juveniles can be held as long as two years; this is the juvenile equivalent of the state adult prison system.  DJJ operates 20 Regional Youth Detention Centers where juveniles are held while awaiting adjudication for an offense.   The department is also responsible for some 14,000 youths in community-based settings.

When you look at all the services provided – and all the locations where service is provided – the state DJJ interacts with about 41,000 juvenile offenders per year and it maintains a daily headcount of almost 16,000 offenders in its secure detention or community-based programs.

As noted above, 45 percent of all committed youth will be charged with a new crime within three years and the number is 60 percent for those sentenced to confinement in a Youth Development Campus secure facility.  “That rate has increased slightly over the last eight to nine years,” Pew’s Newman told the Special Council.  “So despite significant costs the state is actually seeing recidivism rates that are on the rise.”

“With all due respect, those numbers are lower than I thought,” said Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, who is newly appointed to the Council.  “It depends on what you are asking,” Newman said.  “If you’re talking about re-arrested those numbers are higher. These are just the ones that are re-adjudicated,” meaning, they are back inside DJJ facilities or programs.

Changes Underway in the Adult Corrections System

This week’s Special Council meeting was notable for something else – a rare and illustrative discussion of changes already underway in the adult criminal justice system.  Tracking system reforms is a complex challenge because implementation has no single executive team and it has no website that would help the public learn about what’s being done, when and where.

The Department of Corrections will open new residential substance abuse treatment centers this month in Turner, Appling and Pike counties.  The Appling and Pike facilities are so-called dual diagnosis centers that also specialize in mental health services.

“We know mental health is a growing population, a growing segment of our probation and prison population,” said Jay Sanders, special assistant in the Corrections probation operations division.  “Our goal is to keep offenders – those that we can, not everyone – out of prison and in the community.”  Each center can provide mental health and substance abuse service to about 200 offenders.

A new probation day reporting center opened last week in Savannah and another will open within six months but the location has not been announced.  “These hold 100-to-125 individuals,” Sanders said.  “They report in every day, see their officer.  They’re drug tested and go to counseling.”

Community impact program sites are now open in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, McDonough and Rome.  These local offices connect mental health, education and labor resources with released offenders who are re-entering the community.  Two or three more are anticipated.  “We want to give you the opportunity to succeed so we don’t see you again on probation, in prison or on parole,” Sanders told the Special Council.

The Special Council did not announce a timetable for next meetings.  It will divide into work groups.  State Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs and Governor’s Office deputy executive counsel David Werner are co-chairs.  “Nothing is off the table,” Boggs told the panel.  “We want to make sure that we are inclusive.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Excerpts: Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform Report

Mike Klein

The following excerpts contain all the substantial recommendations contained within the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform report that was released Friday November 18 by Governor Nathan Deal’s office. There was no news conference at the time this article was posted.  The online complete Special Council report contains extensive sourcing footnotes that were eliminated here to ease reading.  Edited for length. This link will re-direct you to the complete and unedited report as released by Governor Deal’s office.

Policies to Protect Public Safety, Hold Offenders Accountable and Contain Corrections Costs

Georgia policymakers are looking for ways to increase public safety and to control corrections spending and growth in the prison population. Per its legislative mandate, the Council undertook an extensive review of the state’s data and practices to analyze whether Georgia’s laws, policies and practices were focused on reducing recidivism and improving public safety.

This report provides analysis and options for policymakers to consider to increase public safety and avert the growth currently projected for the state’s prison population. It provides descriptions of each of the options. The Council strongly recommends that where potential savings are achieved, a portion be reinvested into those options that have been 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 suggests investing in effective information and performance measurement systems.

The following policy options are presented in three sections:

** The first section consists of recommendations to improve public safety and hold offenders accountable by improving the criminal justice system in Georgia, particularly focusing on strengthening community supervision, sanctions and services.

** The second section outlines potential sentencing reform options that will focus expensive prison beds on violent, career criminals and identify lower-level, non-violent offenders who could be effectively supervised in the community.

**The final section summarizes the priority reinvestment opportunities that the Council believes should be adopted by the legislature in order to improve public safety in Georgia.

Part I: Improving Public Safety and Holding Offenders Accountable

The Council’s analysis indicated that Georgia has established several good community-based sentencing options, but that they are insufficient in scale and scope to meet current needs. These options often do not exist in many parts of the state and too many of the options have waiting lists.

In addition, the Council noted that the number of people on probation or parole in Georgia has risen consistently. Since 2000, Georgia’s felony probation population has grown by 22 percent and the state’s parole population has grown 9 percent.  As of 2010, there were more than 156,000 felony probationers and 22,000 parolees being supervised in Georgia communities. In both 2009 and 2010, more offenders entered probation supervision than were discharged.

Finally, probation sentences are twice as long as the national average.45 The result of these facts and trends is that supervision agencies are overburdened in their efforts to provide effective supervision.

Based on this analysis, the Council developed a number of recommendations to improve public safety and hold offenders accountable. The recommendations focus on four areas: (1) Ensuring access to effective community-based sanctions, (2) Strengthening community supervision, (3) Ensuring resources are used effectively, and (4) Improving government performance to achieve long-term success.

Ensure Access to Effective Community-Based Sanctions

Recommendation 1: Create a statewide system of accountability courts. The Council recommends expanding the number of accountability courts and implementing a comprehensive standards and evaluation system to ensure all accountability courts are effective at improving public safety. Georgia has a number of accountability courts currently operating, including drug courts, mental health courts, veterans’ courts, and others, but some areas of the state do not have any accountability courts. Drug courts, for example, have been proven effective when they follow specific best practices both here in Georgia and across the country. By creating a statewide system of accountability courts that establishes best practices, collects information on performance measures, increases funding and conditions funding on adherence to best practices, Georgia can ensure that its accountability courts are making the most of their potential to increase public safety and controlling costs.

Specifically, the Council recommends that:

1. the Administrative Office of the Courts develop an electronic information system for performance measurement and require the submission of performance data.

2. the Judicial Council Standing Committee on Accountability Courts define and publish standards and mandatory practices to be promulgated by the Judicial Council within 6 months.

3. the Administrative Office of the Courts condition the award of state funds on compliance with standards and best practices.

4. the Administrative Office of the Courts create a certification and review process to ensure programs are adhering to standards and mandatory practices to include onsite auditing and the provision of technical assistance with evidence-based practices.

5. the state expand funding for accountability courts. The Council considered several options, including (1) redirecting savings from other reforms in this report, (2) dedicating a percentage of the County Drug Abuse Treatment and Education (DATE) Fund to drug courts and expanding the number of offenses that could be considered for a DATE fine, and (3) implementing a minimum fine for any drug offense that would be dedicated to accountability courts.

Recommendation 2:Expand access to effective treatment and programming options in communities around the state. Georgia struggles with a lack of community intervention resources, notably for substance abuse and mental health services. This means that judges have limited non-prison sentencing options to choose from. Programs that do exist like residential substance abuse treatment programs (RSATs) and day reporting centers (DRCs) have significant wait lists and are not available in all parts of the state. The Council recommends expanding these resources immediately and using a portion of the savings identified in this repor

Strengthen Community Supervision

Recommendation 3: Require the implementation of Evidence-Based Practices. Research and practice over the past 25 years have identified new strategies and policies that can make a significant dent in recidivism rates. Ensuring that evidence-based practices (EBP) are used and that state funds are spent on EBP will ensure the state is getting the best public safety return on its investment. This recommendation would require that offenders on probation and parole are supervised in accordance with practices proven to reduce recidivism, and that state funds for offender programming are spent on programs that are evidence-based.  By adopting a comprehensive, research-based approach to supervision, corrections systems can reduce recidivism by up to 30 percent.49 This significantly improves public safety and reduces costs.

Recommendation 4: Create Performance Incentive Funding Pilot Projects. Evidence-based community corrections agencies can cut recidivism, but adequate funding for them is a perennial challenge in the criminal justice system. States and localities can align their fiscal relationships in ways that reward performance. If corrections agencies are successful in cutting the rate at which offenders are sent back to prison for new crimes or rule violations, the state reaps savings by avoiding prison costs. By sharing some of those savings with the successful agencies and localities, states can help build stronger community corrections systems without appropriating new funds.

Recommendation 5: Implement mandatory supervision for all offenders who max-out their sentence. In 2010, 7,495 offenders released from prison had no parole supervision to follow. Of those offenders, 1,592 also had no probation supervision to follow meaning that they were released from prison with no supervision at all.50 These offenders include serious and even some chronic offenders, and by requiring that offenders serve time on parole, parole officers can provide supervision while these offenders transition back into the community. They also can serve as a valuable resource to crime victims, who are eager for information concerning the offenders in their cases. This recommendation requires that all inmates who would be released without any supervision be transferred to parole supervision six months before their discharge date.

Ensure Georgia’s Resources are Used Effectively

Recommendation 6: Improve Government Performance by Eliminating Dual Supervision. Currently some offenders are supervised by both probation and parole at the same time. However, it is unknown exactly how large this population is due to the difficulty of identifying these offenders through different information systems. Any overlap of time and resources to supervise offenders under both probation and parole is a significant waste of resources for the state. This recommendation would require GDC and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to identify a way to measure and track offenders who are dually supervised, whether as a result of the same or separate cases, and require that they develop rules governing how to eliminate such overlap.

Recommendation 7: Implement Earned Compliance Credits for Probation and Parole. With the average probation sentence in Georgia twice as long as the national average, offenders stack up and stretch probation thin. Earned compliance credits allow agencies to devote time and effort to offenders who present a greater threat to community safety and who are more likely to benefit from supervision and programs. It also promises to enhance motivation and promote behavior change by providing offenders with incentives to meet the goals and conditions of supervision.

The Council had significant discussions about ways to ensure that offenders are compliant and, in particular, the Council discussed the use of drug testing to ensure compliance. With current resources and staffing, probation is only able to conduct about 6,000 drug tests per month, resulting in many offenders being tested infrequently or not at all.53 Thus, the Council suggests that standards for drug testing be developed.

Recommendation 8: Expand the Performance Incentive Credit (PIC) program. Georgia can reserve prison space for higher-risk offenders and create incentives for offenders to participate in programming that will reduce the likelihood to reoffend upon release. This recommendation endorses changes that GDC and Board of Pardons and Paroles are making to the current PIC program. These changes, which include allowing offenders to earn up to 12 months of PIC time off their sentence for participation in work or risk reduction, should be codified in statute.

Recommendation 9: Improve the mechanism for ending probation for non-violent offenders on unsupervised or administrative supervision. Currently there are more than 50,000 probationers on unsupervised or administrative supervision. Georgia law allows supervision officers to bring probationers back to court to request that supervision be terminated. However, probation termination is frequently not sought or granted. Removing low-risk, non-violent probationers who have met all of their obligations, including restitution, from supervision caseloads allows officers to focus their time on moderate and high-risk offenders who need supervision.

Recommendation 10: Cap Sentences at Probation Detention Centers (PDCs). PDCs were meant to be 60 to 120 day programs. According to GDC, the average length of stay for those leaving a PDC in FY 2011 was 183 days, with the average length of stay at one PDC reaching 254 days.  In addition, there are currently about 800 offenders in local jails awaiting a PDC bed.  Capping stays at PDCs would reduce the jail backlog by allowing more offenders into PDC beds. In addition, providing information to judges on the current utilization levels of PDCs and any current PDC backlog will assist judges in making the best decisions.

This recommendation would require a 180-day cap on the sentence at Probation Detention Centers. The Council discussed not applying this cap, however, to offenders receiving a suspended PDC sentence in order to participate in a drug court program. In addition, the Council suggests that the Georgia Department of Corrections be required or incentivized to remove an offender from a local jail if beds are available.

Improve Government Performance and Ensure Long-Term Success

Recommendation 11: Create a Criminal Justice Reform Oversight Council. This recommendation would create an oversight council composed of legislative, executive, and judicial branch members, as well as representatives from the various sectors of the criminal justice system at the state and local level. The Oversight Council would be a continuing organization charged with monitoring and reporting back to the General Assembly on the implementation of the Special Council’s recommendations and the Special Committee’s legislation. The Oversight Council would also be asked to make additional recommendations to the General Assembly on future legislation and policy options.

Several issues were raised by Council members that could not be fully addressed for this report, but that the Council members felt deserved further examination. The Oversight Council could examine these issues further. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following:

Juvenile justice reform: Council members believe that a full examination of the state’s juvenile justice system should be undertaken to develop recommendations for reform.

Misdemeanor probation: Georgia’s unique approach to supervising misdemeanor offenders in the community should be fully examined, including the financing and monitoring of private probation, to determine whether it meets the public safety needs of the state and whether it adheres to evidence-based practices.

Battered person syndrome reforms: Some offenders currently incarcerated may not have been able to present evidence about abuse they endured. Council members believe that consideration of changes to the parole relief statute, ability to bring petitions to the Supreme Court, and ability to bring petitions to the Court of Appeals would allow for a fairer criminal justice system and could remove from the prison population people who do not present a threat to society.

Recommendation 12: Improve the electronic criminal justice information systems. Council members highlighted three areas of Georgia’s current exchange of criminal justice information for improvement: providing information to judges about sentencing and parole practices, requiring submissions of electronic sentencing information to Corrections and Parole, and creating electronic notification of parole notifications to judges and prosecutors.

Recommendation 13: Implement a performance auditing system. Internal audits by the Georgia Department of Corrections have shown significant strengths among the agency’s programs and facilities. However these audits also indicate a fidelity problem among some programs and facilities operated by the department. For example, not all offender files contained structured case plans, case plans were inconsistent and sometimes were not linked to assessments, and risk was not always a factor in selecting offenders.  This recommendation would require that GDC and Parole develop a system to regularly conduct external audits of all programs, practices and facilities, require that they report yearly on such audits to the Oversight Council and detail how they are using the audits to improve outcomes and meet the evidence-based practices requirement.

Recommendation 14: Implement a systematic performance measurement model. Most performance measures in Georgia track processes such as case flow (new cases received, cases discharged, cases remaining), activity counts (number of office or field contacts completed, number of drug tests administered), or point-in-time snapshots (average caseload size, types of cases supervised). Such measures provide information about the agency workload, but fail to address the results achieved by the agency.  This recommendation would require that GDC and Parole implement a systematic performance measurement model that includes measures of outcomes in key performance areas and report yearly to the Oversight Council …

Part II: Focus Expensive Prison Beds on Serious Offenders

Drug and property offenders represent almost 60 percent of all admissions to Georgia prisons.  In fact, five of the top six most common prison admission offenses are drug and property offenses. The average time spent in prison for offenders convicted of drug and property offenses tripled between 1990 and 2010.

Importantly, many of these offenders are identified as lower-risk to re-offend.  In 2010, Georgia courts sent more than 5,000 lower-risk drug and property offenders to prison who had never been incarcerated before, accounting for 25 percent of all admissions last year.

Looking more closely at admissions for drug crimes, nearly 3,200 offenders entered prison following a conviction for drug possession (as opposed to trafficking or sales) and, based on historical trends, are likely to spend a year and a half in prison before returning to the community. Yet two-thirds of these inmates were assessed as having a lower-risk to re-offend.

Research suggests that incarceration can lead to increased recidivism for certain offenders, and that this effect is stronger for felony drug offenders.  The Council considered a number of options to identify low-risk offenders who could be effectively supervised in the community at a lower cost, ensuring prison beds are available for more high-risk offenders.

Policy Options: Package 1

The Council developed the following options for consideration by the legislature. These options focus on identifying low-risk, nonviolent offenders who could be effectively supervised in the community at a lower cost, ensuring prison beds are available for more dangerous offenders.  The following policy options would reduce the projected growth in the prison population by up to 3,300 offenders over five years. However, even if these reforms are implemented, the prison population will still grow by approximately 600 offenders by the end of that time frame.

Package 1: Theft

The felony theft threshold in Georgia, last changed in 1982, is $500. Adjusting for inflation, this means that the felony standard has decreased by more than 50 percent ($500 in 1982 is equivalent to more than $1,100 today). In recent years, many other states have updated their felony thresholds. South Carolina raised its to $2,000; Texas to $1,500; and North Carolina to $1,000.  The Council suggests increasing the theft threshold for certain theft offenses from $500 to $1,500 and instituting sentence ranges that correspond to the value of the theft, including increasing the sentencing range for higher values. This increase would apply to the following statutes: Theft by taking, by deception, by conversion, by receiving stolen property, by receiving property stolen in another state, by bringing stolen property into state, theft of services, of lost or mislaid property, and copper theft.  In addition, the Council suggests increasing the threshold of theft by shoplifting from $300 to $750.

Package 1: Burglary

The Council recognizes that burglary is a serious offense. However, Georgia’s current burglary statute includes one sentencing range for all types of burglaries, spanning theft from an unoccupied tool shed to a nighttime invasion of an occupied home. Some states create different degrees of burglary based on the specific type of burglary committed and the details of the offense. The Council suggests creating two degrees of burglary by separating burglary of unoccupied structures from dwellings. Second degree burglary would include burglaries of unoccupied structures… First degree burglary would include burglaries of any dwelling, whether unoccupied or occupied. The Council also suggests adjusting the sentencing range to correspond to the degree of the offense, including raising the sentencing range for serious offenses that involve residential homes.

Package 1: Forgery

The current forgery statute groups all types of forgeries together without distinguishing between the type of document that is forged. Some states create separate degrees of forgeries based on the specific type of forgery committed and the details of the offense. The Council suggests creating degrees of forgery by separating forgery of checks from forgeries of other documents and also implementing a differentiation for forgeries of checks above or below $1,500. In addition, the Council suggests adjusting the deposit account fraud (“bad checks”) threshold from $500 to $1,500 for consistency. The Council also suggests adjusting the sentencing range to correspond to the degree of the offense, including raising the sentencing range for more serious forgeries.

Package 1: Mandatory Minimum Safety Valve

The Council suggests allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking under the following specific circumstances:

• The interests of justice are served by a reduced minimum sentence;

• Public safety is likely to be improved with expedited access to risk-reduction programs;

• And the court specifies on the record the specific circumstances and reasons warranting this departure.

The Council recommends that a deviation floor be set whereby, if these criteria are met, the judge could reduce the minimum sentence by a certain percentage of the mandatory minimum, which would set a deviation floor ensuring some imprisonment for these offenders.

Package 1: Front-End Risk Assessment

The Council suggests authorizing AOC and GDC to establish a pilot program that would implement a risk assessment tool to identify prison-bound, non-violent drug and property offenders (without a prior violent or sex conviction, prior drug sale or trafficking conviction) who could be diverted from prison.

The Council discussed the challenges to implementing a risk assessment for prison-bound offenders and felt that through a pilot program the AOC and GDC could work out these issues before expanding statewide. The Council discussed two possible implementation options that AOC and GDC could consider:

Pre-Sentencing – Develop a tool that would identify those offenders most likely to be sentenced to prison. This group would be assessed by GDC before sentencing.

• Post-Sentencing – Develop a tool that would identify the lowest risk offenders for potential diversion (similar to Alabama) and require GDC to go back to the judge to request a different sentence for low-risk offenders.

Package 1: Minor traffic offenses

Currently, Georgia criminalizes minor traffic offenders while most other states treat them as violations with a fine as penalty. The numbers of traffic offenses that clog the court process are significant. The state has more than 2 million traffic offenses a year … The Council suggests changing minor traffic offenses from misdemeanors to violations, creating a new class of violations that are non-criminal for minor traffic offenses.  It is suggested that this include offenses below four point violations, and thus would not include offenses such as DUI, driving with a suspended driver’s license, or other serious traffic offenses.  The Council discussed options to enforce the fines imposed for such offenses, and recommend that the fines be tied to person’s driver’s license renewal and vehicle registration.

Package 1: Parole Guidelines

In 2008, the Parole Board implemented parole guidelines. The Council recommends requiring the Board of Pardons and Paroles to re-validate the guidelines every five years beginning in the year after enactment of these sentencing reforms so that the guidelines reflect current practice and standards.

Additional Policy Options

Georgia’s prisons hold several thousand people serving time for possession of controlled substances. The Council examined the background of these offenders as well as the policies and practices leading to their incarceration. The Council concluded that these policies and the lack of sentencing options have both a public safety and a financial cost.

The Council found two significant factors in the high number of possession offenders admitted to prison. First, the sentencing laws related to drug offenses are broad compared with other states. Second, some communities have limited if any options for offenders. In order to improve public safety and reduce costs the Council considered several sentencing options for drug offenses.

However no consensus was reached. The Council includes in this report two of the specific options considered and recommends that state policymakers consider these options or other options to address how the state deals with offenders whose criminal conduct is largely driven by drug addiction.

The Council believes that in order for any change in sentencing practices to be effective, courts and probation officers must have options that address the treatment needs of the state. There must be a commitment to improve and expand the services currently available so that judges and the public believe that putting a person on probation will improve public safety. Toward that end, the recommendations elsewhere in this report related to day reporting centers, residential treatment centers and accountability courts should be a priority for the legislature in the coming year.

Additional Policy Option 1: Develop a simple drug possession offense based on weight. Currently, the only weight threshold for drug offenses exists for trafficking offenses, which is 28 grams.73 Possession includes any amount up to that level. The Council discussed creating a simple possession statute for cocaine and methamphetamine below a specific amount such as 1 gram.

Additional Policy Option 2: Presumptive probation for drug offenders. This option would require that any person convicted of possessing a controlled substance shall be presumed to be appropriate for a sentence of probation in lieu of a prison sentence so long as the person has not been convicted of a violent offense, a sex offense, or a trafficking offense. The presumption of probation may be overridden and a prison sentence may be imposed if the judge finds that other factors present a significant public safety risk.

Part III: Reinvestment Priorities

In order to create a sentencing and corrections system that takes maximum advantage of research-based strategies to improve public safety, the Council recommends that the legislature consider specific reinvestment priorities detailed in this report. Among the top priorities of the Council members are providing reinvestment funds to expand accountability courts, residential treatment beds and day reporting centers. These programs will give greater options to judges and broaden access to effective alternatives for appropriate offenders.

In addition, the Council recommends that funding be provided to implement external audits of programs, implement a performance measurement system, and improve and integrate state and local criminal justice information systems. These recommendations will improve the performance of the criminal justice system and ensure long-term success and sustainability.

Finally, the Council recommends that funding be expanded to increase the prevalence and effectiveness of drug testing of offenders on community supervision and increase the use of GPS monitoring for appropriate offenders. These options will ensure that offenders are supervised effectively and are held accountable while on supervision.

(End of Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform report recommendations)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

November 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform Report Released

Mike Klein

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

November 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment