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Georgia Sentencing Reform Saving $20 Million a Year

Georgia’s 2012 sentencing reform law is saving taxpayers $20 million annually, said Gov. Nathan Deal during a speech to a University of Georgia alumni group.

The top priority for Deal going into the 2012 legislative session was House Bill 1176. In the end, it made it through the legislative process with few changes. The law, which went into effect July 1, 2012, joined the state with others who are being “smart on crime.” Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina also enacted legislation to end out-of-control prison spending spawned by tough-on-crime laws of the 90’s.

The law lowered the penalties for those in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, created forgery offense degrees with graduated punishment based upon the type of offense and amount of money involved, increased from $300 to $500 the threshold for shoplifting and most other theft crimes to $1500, and created three burglary categories with more severe punishment for armed burglars who cause physical harm to a resident lower punishment for burglaries of unoccupied structures of buildings.

As we reserve more of our expensive [prison] bed space for truly dangerous criminals, [we] free up revenue to deal with those who are not necessarily dangerous but in many ways in trouble because of various addictions,” Deal said after the bill was passed. “Our system is feeding on itself with our recidivism rate being as high as it is. We have the opportunity now to make a difference in the lives of future generations of Georgia.”

The quick results of the law were astounding. “I was amazed at the dollar figures… and amazed at the time frame,” said Deal.

The savings, however, are still going back into the prison system. Part of it is going to pay raises and recruitment of prison guards. Another portion is earmarked for a two-fold increase in what the state pays counties to hold state prisoners until the state finds its own cells for them.

Deal also said the state would set an example for private companies by hiring convicted felons. “If you have a story to tell, you might have a shot at getting a job,” he said in saying ex-felons will get at least a personal interview.

“We use big words like recidivism,” said Deal. “What it really means is you have a new crime and new victims.” With that theme, Deal asked the 2014 legislature to help prisoners be better prepared upon release. Last year, Deal convinced the legislature to reform the juvenile justice system. It is too early to determine the effect of that reform.

Sources: Morris New Service; Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

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