Calling it a historic day for Georgia, an emotional Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday signed into law major changes to how the state punishes non-violent criminals.
Deal signed House Bill 1176 at the Capitol surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, which recommended many of the new law's provisions.
The sentencing reform package is projected to save taxpayers $264 million in prison spending over the next five years. The legislation, which takes effect July 1, establishes alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent drug and property offenders and reserves expensive prison beds for the most dangerous offenders.
"This comprehensive new law reflects a bipartisan consensus about how to combat nonviolent crime," Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, said. It will "make communities safer and curb runaway corrections spending."
I haven't read the specifics of the bill, so I can't say for sure whether the alternatives to incarceration, mentioned above, have had any funding restored. Under the previous administration, as the state budget circled the drain, all corrections cuts came in the form of alternative sentencing programs as opposed to closing prisons or releasing non-violent, low level offenders (heaven forbid). Unless funding has been restored to these programs, shifting more offenders there will merely overwhelm them and reduce their effectiveness.
Nevertheless, it's a good day for Georgia.
The initiative is part of Deal's criminal justice reform agenda, which includes $10 million in funding for "accountability courts" that require defendants to work, seek treatment and stay sober.After 25 years of being in the vanguard of "git tuff" stupidity, I have tears in my eyes too. I never thought I'd see the day it would be politically palatable to reduce criminal sentencing in Georgia.
Deal said those special courts will save the state money through lower recidivism, but they will also save lives and families. Deal's son, Jason, is a superior court judge in Hall and Dawson counties and oversees drug courts there. Deal said he and his wife, Sandra, who was also at the bill signing, had attended the program's graduation ceremonies.
"To listen to the stories, to the lives that have been changed, the families who have been reunited and lives that have, quite frankly, been cast aside by the system that was in place, had a tremendous emotional effect on me," Deal said as he fought back tears.
Bravo, Governor Deal.