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Georgia Enacts Massive Probation Reform Bill

by David M. Reutter

A bill that went into effect on July 1, 2021, allows individuals to access termination of felony probation after three years if they meet certain requirements. The bill impacts up to a quarter of Georgia’s current probationers, creating a huge savings for taxpayers.

Before the bill went into effect, Georgia had 191,000 people serving probation sentences. That is more than any other state. Georgia’s probation system has serious racial inequalities. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be serving a probation sentence in every county in Georgia. In some counties, Blacks are eight times as likely as whites to be serving a probationary sentence.

The new law aims to make a huge change in those statistics. “Despite all the work we have done as legislators to reform and rethink the criminal justice system, Georgia still has the largest number of individuals serving probation in the country,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, who introduced the bill. “SB 105 addresses this problem by allowing individuals who have proven their rehabilitation through good behavior the ability to access early termination.”

SB 105 applies to persons convicted of a felony offense but have no prior felony convictions. It is limited to persons who were sentenced to a probationary sentence or who were sentenced to not more than 12 months imprisonment with a probationary sentence following it. Courts are required to include a behavioral incentive date that does not exceed three years in its sentencing order.

The Department of Community Supervision (DCS) must notify the court and prosecuting attorney of people who have paid all restitution owed, have not had probation revoked in “the immediately preceding 24 months, or when the court includes a behavioral incentive date less than two years from the date a sentence was imposed” without revocation in that period, and has not been arrested for anything other than a non-serious traffic offense.

DCS is also required to provide the court with an order to terminate the defendant’s probation. The court must execute the order within 30 days of receipt unless the prosecuting attorney requests a hearing. In such cases, the court is required to set a hearing on the matter “as soon as possible but not more than 90 days after receiving the order to terminate.”

SB 105 is retroactive and provides that persons who were sentenced prior to it becoming effective shall have a behavioral incentive date three years from the date the sentence was imposed.

The Georgia Justice Project (GJP) was key in passing the legislation. GJP has helped pass 21 Georgia laws that create pathways for second chances for Georgians.

“Georgia Justice Project has been committed to helping Georgians impacted by the criminal justice system successfully reenter our communities,” said GJP’s Executive Director Doug Ammar. “We are thrilled that many Georgians who have proven their rehabilitation will now have access to early termination of their probation.”

The bill immediately impacts 25% of the Georgians on probation. Taxpayers also have reason to rejoice, for SB 105 is estimated to save them $34 million annually in reduced costs of supervision. Whether it actually does so remains to be seen. 



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