published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Georgia eyeing prison reform for nonviolent drug offenders

ATLANTA -- Georgia could change the way nonviolent drug offenders are sentenced and jailed if a North Georgia lawmaker's bill makes it through the General Assembly.

Backed by each branch of state government, Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, announced a bill forming a committee that will spend a year trying to figure out how to rehabilitate repeat offenders.

"For decades we've been treating the symptoms of our addicted, mentally ill offenders ... rather than treating the root cause of those symptoms," Neal said, standing on the Capitol steps.

The goal is to begin introducing criminal justice reform in next year's legislative session, he said.

Georgia has the fourth-largest prison population in the country and spends about $1 billion a year on corrections, state officials said.

That's about $18,000 a year per inmate, Gov. Nathan Deal said at a news conference Wednesday.

"That math doesn't work in Georgia," Deal said.

Up to 75 percent of Georgia prison inmates are there because of an alcohol or drug addiction and the current system isn't reducing those addictions, Deal said.

House Bill 265 would create a bipartisan committee with members from the executive, legislative and judicial branches that would spend the next year studying how money could be better spent to reduce recidivism, Neal said.

Options could include giving nonviolent drug offenders more opportunities for daytime reporting centers and creating more drug, DUI and mental health courts in the state, Deal said. The committee also will look at updating how drug offenders are sentenced, he said, and how money now is being spent.

"If we can do some funding on the front end to deal with this better, we'll save a lot of funding on the back end," he said.

State officials backing the bill contend the legislation and subsequent committee proposals will not soften the punishment for crimes. They argued that proposed laws would help reduce offenders' addictions and not allow people to treat prison as a revolving door.

"The punishment should match the crime," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

The committee will look at how to provide prosecutors and judges with more sentencing options so defendants can properly be held accountable for crimes and get the help they need, Cagle said.

When courts don't have many options for dealing with nonviolent offenders, those people tend to not get the attention or treatment they need, Deal said.

"If we focus our resources in ways that will prevent the repeat offenders, then hopefully we will not see these processes reoccur," he said.

If the legislation passes, state officials say they will have some practical solutions after the study deadline on Jan. 12, 2012.

Contact Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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jeffpons said...

The B.A. in Criminal Justice provides a baseline that I think helps anyone going into law enforcement develop the much-needed critical thinking skills. search for "United Forensic College". Today, a degree is pretty much required if you want to move into supervision and management.

February 17, 2011 at 12:57 a.m.
zwickau said...

Wow! It took all this time for someone to finally grow a brain?! Unbelievable!!

February 17, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.
whatsthefuss said...

Perhaps if they try educating them as children and quit with the Jesus every five seconds these poor kids would grow up to lead intelligent productive lives. Sweet Screamin Jesus!! I love educations new catch phrase. You can't teach someone to be a parent. Yeah it's the same with teachers. You can't teach someone to be a teacher!! Unfortunatly, many have a piece of paper that claim they are.

February 18, 2011 at 5:25 p.m.
laurie said...

If Georgia was serious about prison reform, then why would they pick the drug addicts to sugar coat, they have the highest recidivism rate & most dangerous to society, destroying many lives & families in their path. Drugs do not discriminate, this only breeds MORE CRIME where are these addicts going to get their money for the habit? I agree a reform is needed,but would consider other prisoners before a drug addict, billions have been wasted on them already! It is always about the money, follow the money trail, Stop Supporting The Private Prison Industry At The Tax Payers Expense!

April 24, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.
ravingmarie said...

A reform is needed within the prison system itself. The people running these places don't have a clue. When you treat people like animals, they act like animals. There is overcrowding, food reduction and guards that are uncaring about humans. Who can reform on that? These people come out of there mad at the world and commit more crimes. They don't know anything else.

June 15, 2011 at 7:04 p.m.
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