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Georgia Considers Reforms to Reduce Prison Population, Costs


With additional reporting on the Special Council’s recommendations by Matthew Cardinale.

(APN) ATLANTA -- This year, the Georgia Legislature is expected to begin considering a package of reforms intended to reduce the state’s prison population as well as the enormous costs to taxpayers that Georgia’s mass incarceration policies have caused year after year.

The Report of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians finished its findings and recommendations for the state legislature on Friday, November 18, 2011.  Shortly after his inauguration in January 2011, Gov. Deal had called for prison reform, and the legislature created the Special Council to research the issue.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed the thirteen members of the Special Council from Governor’s office, the State Senate, State House, and the Judicial Branch.  Appointees included State Sens. John Crosby (R-Tifton), Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), and Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur); State Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), Jay Powell (R-Camilla), and Willie Talton (R-Warner Robins); Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Supreme Court of Georgia; Waycross Superior Court Judge Michael Boggs, who now serves on the Court of Appeals of Georgia; Fulton County Superior Court Judges Ural Glanville and Todd Markle; Linda Evans, member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission; David McCade, Douglas County District Attorney; and Ken Shigley, President of the Georgia State Bar.

The Governor named the Pew Charitable Trust and Applied Research Services as its consultants.

Georgia has the fourth highest rate of adults behind bars in the country.  One of every seventy adult Georgians are in jail, compared to the national rate of one in one hundred according to the Governor's 2011 Report of the Special Council.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  While the US only represents about five percent of the world's population, one-quarter of the entire world's inmates are incarcerated in the US.  That essentially puts Georgia near the top of the list for incarcerations worldwide.

Georgia's antiquated and draconian marijuana prohibition laws are responsible for a large percentage of people in jail.

"The war on drugs has failed miserably.  We have casualties from this war filling homeless shelters, jails, and graveyards, as victim after victim is disenfranchised and denied any hope for a living wage," Denise Woodall, a PhD student in Criminology at the University of Miami who was formerly incarcerated, told Atlanta Progressive News.

Currently the State spends more than one billion dollars annually on corrections, and this number keeps going up each year.

The data shows most individuals sentenced to prison are drug and property offenders and they are staying behind bars for longer periods of time.  These offenders represent almost sixty percent of all people incarcerated.  Many of these people are identified as lower-risk and are less likely to re-offend.

"They are saying [in the report] that there is no issue of public safety with these people; furthermore, they are admitting that they need help not incarceration," Woodall said.

The Special Council report claims to have solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders; however, some take issue with that.

The Special Council “does not intend to seek public input from anybody outside the parties it has already recognized as ‘stakeholders’... associations of judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs, with maybe a token defense attorney thrown in, Democratic and Republican legislators, and local chambers of commerce," Bruce Dixon wrote in the Black Agenda Report, an online publication.

The inmates and family members are the real stakeholders and their opinions and recommendations are not represented in the Special Council's report.

The three goals of the report are, first, to address the growth of the State's prison population and contain corrections cost while improving offender management.  Second, to reinvest a portion of the savings into strategies that reduce crime and recidivism.  And third, to hold offenders accountable by strengthening community-based supervision, sanctions, and services.  

"How do you reform the ‘criminal justice system’ without acknowledging systematic torture, endemic corruption, pervasive racial and class bias, the failure of the war on drugs, and the massive economic and social devastation it wreaks upon entire communities?" Dixon wrote.  "The answer is, you don't."

However, as valid as these criticisms may be, the report makes several recommendations that are substantive and could produce meaningful results.

“Despite [the] growth in prison population and spending, Georgia taxpayers haven’t received a better return on their corrections dollars. The recidivism rate—the proportion of inmates who are reconvicted within three years of release—has remained unchanged, hovering just shy of 30 percent throughout the past decade,” the report notes.

If nothing is changed, the State will have to spend 264 million dollars over the next five years to increase prison capacity.

“Ensuring that there is enough prison space for violent, career criminals is essential to protecting public safety,” the report notes.

“The Council determined that prison growth cannot simply be explained by an increase in crime... 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 for how long,” the report states.

“Further, services and programs to which officers refer offenders are either insufficient or unavailable in many areas of the state.  Research makes clear that evidence-based interventions can reduce recidivism among medium- and high-risk offenders.  However, Georgia struggles with limited services and programs in the community, notably for substance abuse and mental health services.  Currently, there are only 33 drug courts in the state, covering less than 50 percent of the state’s counties and serving fewer than 3,000 offenders.  In addition, there are only 13 Day Reporting Centers (DRC), which are community-based supervision and service centers that handle between 80 and 120 offenders per center.  The state operates just three
probation substance abuse treatment centers which provide residential treatment for 800 offenders on probation with serious substance abuse problems,” the report notes.

“The lack of community-based options not only constrains probation officers, it limits sentencing options available to judges. Insufficient alternatives in the community can result in judges sending lower-risk offenders to prison simply to get them into treatment or some other program,”
the report states.

Among the main recommendations, first, the report recommends increasing state funding for what are called accountability courts, including drug courts, mental health courts, veterans’ courts, and others.

Second, the report recommends that the State increase residential substance abuse treatment programs (RSATs) and DRCs.

Third, the report recommends using evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism.

Fourth, it recommends creating ten pilot programs to allow local agencies to take the lead on reducing recidivism.

Fifth, it recommends ensuring that inmates who max out their sentence, be released under supervision such as six months of probation, instead of just releasing them with no supervision.

Sixth, it recommends ensuring that offenders are not on probation and parole on the same time, although the State lacks data on how many people are impacted by this.

Seventh, it recommends giving twenty day compliance credits per month to those on probation or parole who make progress towards their case goals and who do not commit new crimes.

Eighth, it recommends reducing offenders’ prison sentences by up to a year if they participate in risk reduction or work programs.

Ninth, it recommends a process for allowing 50,000 probationers on administrative or unsupervised probation to petition the court to end their probation; this could save the State additional money.

Tenth, it recommends capping sentences at Probation Detention Centers, where the average stay is 183 days, well over the sixty to 120 day stays originally intended.

Eleventh, it recommends creating a Criminal Justice Reform Oversight Council.

Twelvth, it recommends improving electronic criminal justice information systems.

Thirteenth, it recommends auditing prisons for their compliance with State mandates to create case plans for inmates, to ensure the plans are consistently recorded, and to link case plans to risk assessments.

Fourteenth, it recommends requiring prisons and agencies to track their performance with regards to “measures of outcomes in key performance areas and report yearly to the Oversight Council on key performance measures such as recidivism, employment, substance use, payment of victim restitution, compliance with ‘no contact’ orders, and the overall performance of supervised individuals.”

Fifteenth, it recommends changing the thresholds for what crimes qualify for prison time.  For example, it recommends increasing the theft threshold from five hundred to 1,500 dollars; increasing the burglary threshold from three hundred to 750 dollars; and increasing the bad check threshold from five hundred to 1,500 dollars.

It also recommends reducing minimum sentences and to expand risk reduction options for those convicted of drug trafficking crimes.  It recommends developing a simple drug possession offense based on weight, and a presumption of probation for drug offenders.

And it recommends reducing minor traffic violations from a misdemeanor to a violation, requiring fines that would be tied to the renewal of one’s driver’s license.  A DUI charge would not be included in this category.

People in prison do not get the help they need to not return.  They lack access to educational classes, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, or job training that would prepare them for success once released.

"Deal’s criminal justice reform ignores larger issues around the for-profit prison-industrial complex and strives to maintain keeping return customers by keeping those who come in contact with the criminal injustice system [as] return customers by preventing them from obtaining food, shelter, and employment,"  Woodall said.

In a depressed job market like today it is almost impossible for a person with a criminal record to get a job or housing.  These obstacles alone can create stress and poverty that cause many ex-inmates and especially addicts to land back in the revolving-door prison system.   

In 2010, Georgia courts sent more than five thousand lower-risk drug and property offenders to prison who have never been to prison before, accounting for twenty-five percent of all admission last year, the report states.

As of 2010, there were more than 156,000 felony probationers and 22,000 parolees being supervised in Georgia communities.  

Other options, not considered by the Special Council, would be to reduce the prison population and to cut costs by repealing the prohibition of marijuana in Georgia.   Not only would legalizing marijuana cut the prison population; it would also boost the economy and put the Mexican drug cartels out of business.  

Addiction is a brain chemical problem, not a criminal justice problem.  To end addictions to dangerous drugs like crack cocaine, heroin, and meth, the legislators might also consider legalizing medical Ibogaine Clinics in Georgia.

Ibogaine is an isolated active ingredient from the root bark of the central west African shrub, Tabernanthe iboga.  According to a recent program on the National Geographic channel, Ibogaine clinics, which are legal in other countries including Canada, prove quite effective in
closing the brain receptors that are craving drugs.  However, use of ibogaine also poses some health risks and is not appropriate for everyone.

"What will actually help to solve our 'crime' problem is changing the system within which this torture chamber of incarceration lies… working on constructing a new society, one that values people over profit, then we’ll start to see justice," Woodall said.

Chief Justice Hunstein, meanwhile, praised the report as an unprecedented collaboration of all three branches of government to address prison reform issues in Georgia.

“Georgia has a rich history of being tough on crime. This state did not just settle for a ‘three strikes, you’re out’ law. In 1994, we became the first in the country to pass a 'two strikes, you’re out' law. As a government, we must continue in our zeal to protect our citizens from violent and repeat offenders. Murderers, rapists, armed robbers and other violent felons deserve stiff prison sentences. No one suggests otherwise,” Hunstein wrote.

“But if we truly want to be tough on crime, we must figure out how to reduce it. We now know that being tough on crime is not enough. We must also be smart about crime and criminal justice policy. If we simply throw low-risk offenders into prison, rather than holding them accountable for their wrongdoing while addressing the source of their criminal behavior, they merely become hardened criminals who are more likely to reoffend when they are released. The bottom line is that all those mandatory minimum sentences and get-tough prison measures did little to reduce our reconviction rate,” she wrote.




Comments (7)

malcolm kyle
Said this on 2-13-2012 At 08:47 am

* Colombia, Peru, Mexico or Afghanistan with their coca leaves, marijuana buds or poppy sap are not igniting temptation in the minds of our weak, innocent citizens. These countries are duly responding to the enormous demand that comes from within our own borders. Invading or destroying these countries, thus creating more hate, violence, instability, injustice and corruption, will not fix our problem.

* A rather large majority of people will always feel the need to use drugs such as heroin, opium, nicotine, amphetamines, alcohol, sugar, or caffeine.

* The massive majority of adults who use drugs do so recreationally - getting high at the weekend then up for work on a Monday morning. 

* Apart from the huge percentage of people addicted to both sugar and caffeine, a small minority of adults (nearly 5%) will always experience the use of drugs as problematic. - approx. 3% are dependent on alcohol and approx. 1.5% are dependent on other drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroine etc. 

* Just as it was impossible to prevent alcohol from being produced and used in the U.S. in the 1920s, so too, it is equally impossible to prevent any of the aforementioned drugs from being produced, distributed and widely used by those who desire to do so. 

* Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the drugs it prohibits.

* Prescription drugs kill over 200,000 Americans every year-- even when taken as directed and not abused. 

* Due to Prohibition (historically proven to be an utter failure at every level), the availability of most of these mood-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour.

* Throughout history, the prohibition of any mind-altering substance has always exploded usage rates, overcrowded jails, fueled organized crime, created rampant corruption of law-enforcement - even whole governments, while inducing an incalculable amount of suffering and death. 

* Apart from the fact that the DEA is the de facto enforcement wing of the pharmaceutical industry, the involvement of the CIA in running Heroin from Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan and Cocaine from Central America has been well documented by the 1989 Kerry Committee report, academic researchers Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott, and the late journalist Gary Webb.

* It's not even possible to keep drugs out of prisons, but prohibitionists wish to waste trillions of dollars in an utterly futile attempt to keep them off our streets.

* The United States jails a larger percentage of it's own citizens than any other country in the world, including those run by the worst totalitarian regimes, yet it has far higher use/addiction rates than most other countries.

* Prohibition is the "Goose that laid the golden egg" and the lifeblood of terrorists as well as drug cartels. Both the Taliban and the terrorists of al Qaeda derive their main income from the prohibition-inflated value of the opium poppy. An estimated 44 % of the heroin produced in Afghanistan, with an estimated annual destination value of US $ 27 Billion, transits through Pakistan. Prohibition has essentially destroyed Pakistan's legal economy and social fabric. - We may be about to witness the planet's first civil war in a nation with nuclear capabilities. - Kindly Google: 'A GLOBAL OVERVIEW OF NARCOTICS-FUNDED TERRORIST GROUPS' Only those opposed, or willing to ignore these facts, want things the way they are.

* The future depends on whether or not enough of us are willing to take a long look at the tragic results of prohibition. If we continue to skirt the primary issue while refusing to address the root problem then we can expect no other result than a worsening of the current dire situation. - Good intentions, wishful thinking and pseudoscience are no match for the immutable realities of human nature.

Never have so many been endangered and impoverished by so few so quickly!

* The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American editor, essayist and philologist.

Said this on 4-19-2012 At 07:33 pm

You said exactly what I would like to hear from Congress. What is this war about really? It isn't about the drugs, because if it was, they would have figured out by now that they are taking one step forward and then 100 steps back, and wasted half of America's wealth on a fruitless endeavor. And this doesn't even include the devastation to the person caught with drugs who lose their jobs, homes, children, cars and then can't ever be a productive citizen again.

And, it is really hard on the family who has to pay all the costs (lawyers, phone calls, canteen, traveling, etc) for the prisoner, which are exorbitant.

Said this on 2-15-2012 At 10:52 pm

Start teaching jury nullification to seniors in high school to start nullifying laws like the ones against marijuana.

That is the only way around the gridlocked legislature and the veto happy governor.  The prison population will drop fast.


Said this on 4-18-2012 At 11:13 am

The war on drugs is a war on the American people, just like prohibition was.

The war on drugs promotes crime, not the other way around, not to mention it is totally unconstitutional. What is next, making sugar illegal because it is toxic? Maybe I shouldn't be giving them any ideas.

The Georgia Parole Bd. has only five people looking at millions of prisoner files. They spend a large proportion of their time in meetings and other activities, so how can they possibly make any progress on paroling anyone. None of the people working for the parole board knows anything when you call them. What exactly do all those people do at their jobs if none of them know anything at all? Perhaps the job of paroling needs to be spread out more. Then maybe the prisons won't be so overcrowded.

Vanessa Woolard
Said this on 10-13-2012 At 06:41 pm

I hope starving inmates in Georgia's Jails and Prison's is not your solution to cutting the budget.  Read Below:

My name is Vanessa Samples Woolard, my son Larry Samples JR; was one of the Southern Knights Motorcycle Club members that was arrested in an early morning bust on August 16, 2012.  I won’t begin this with how innocent my son is because this will come out in the end.

My worry is the deplorable living conditions he has to endure everyday at the Hall Count Jail.  When he was first incarcerated I made a dozen phone calls to make sure that he was receiving his medications.  He is a diabetic and has to take medication for this every day.  About 15 years ago he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck.  Even after surgery he is still in a lot of pain every day.  He takes medication for the pain that this has caused in his neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.  The beginning of the third week of incarceration they (jailers) finally started giving him his medication for the diabetes only. 

Due to him breaking his neck this has caused Rheumatoid Arthritis and Larry needs to sleep with a pillow to support his neck and head.  This helps to reduce some of the pain so that he can sleep 3 or 4 hours a night and be able to function daily.  Right now he is using his bed sheet as a pillow to reduce the pain when he lies down.  They (jailers), just in the past few days have started him on the medications needed for his various needs.

Now for the most important thing that is inhuman for my son and the others that are in the Hall County Jail. The food that is served to the inmates is not fit to be served to slop hogs.  The following is a typical menu for a day at the Hall County Jail. 

5:00 a.m. Breakfast: Half of a cup of bran cereal, two slices of plain white bread, apple sauce.

10:00 a.m. Lunch: Two slices of plain white bread, a single piece of cheese, no mayo or mustard, and two saltine crackers.

4:30 p.m. Supper:  crunchy rice, crunchy pinto beans, two hot dogs that had all of the color boiled out of them,  liquid jello for desert.  

All of the above was cold and served with no seasoning what so ever.

When my son was first arrested he weighed over 235 pounds.  He is now less than 200 pounds and looks like he has been in a concentration camp or something.

They can buy food while they are in jail through the commissary but what if the families can’t afford to send money to the inmates?  They of course have to deal with the situation.

Larry is being held without bond because they think he is a danger to the community and they will be better served if he is locked up.  This is a bunch of bologna he is not a danger to anyone.  The boy can hardly move most days.  The FBI, GBI, or DEA agent that set them (motorcycle club) up has since been transferred to another location and given a new identity.  (As reported by Channel 2).  I don’t know for a fact but aren’t you innocent until proven guilty?  Why would you treat another human being as if they’re lower than the dirt under your feet?  I would love to have someone go to the jail  and check into these facts.  No matter what ANYONE has done this type of treatment is uncalled for.  In the charges against Larry and the other club members NO ONE was charged with hurting another human being.  These guys and anyone that is incarcerated should be treated with dignity and consideration at least until they have been convicted of what they are charged with.

I plan on forwarding this letter to Chanel 11, Chanel 2, Governor Nathan Deal, U.S. Representative Paul Broun, M.D. GA-10, AJC, and anyone else I can think of after I post this letter.

So in closing let me say that I do believe that anyone that commits a crime should be punished and have their freedom taken away but let me also say that this is America you are innocent until proven guilty and that NO ONE has the right to treat people the way the inmates are being treated at the Hall County Jail, and I’m sure this is not something just at this facility but all across the state and the nation.

Said this on 3-23-2013 At 09:15 pm

Rheumatoid Arthritis is not caused by injury. Osteoarthritis is caused by injury, please take the time to research your information before posting. You probable should get incarcerated so that you can know first hand what is served at the jail.

 One thing I would like to state to you is that people who are put into jails have put themselves in the wrong situation at the wrong time and found themselves locked up. I am not saying whether they are quilty or not, just that they should know right from wrong by the time they reach adulthood. 

Of course the way you have run to your son's rescue it would appear he is still a child or suffers from mental health issues that prevent him from handling his own mistakes as a adult would. I wish you much luck on taking care of your child.

Said this on 5-2-2013 At 05:34 pm

I wish something like this that yal are talking bout in this statement would happen soon. I have witnessed the drug addiction first hand from my own addiction. to watching people I love fall apart when my soon to be ex husband got out of prison in Sept 2011. I watched him try so hard, he didn't know how to be a dad, he had to be the head of house an didn't known how, he tried to get a job, ol friends started calling then lies, drugs, abandonment. he is now back in prison has been locked back up since July 2012. he gave uif there was some kinda program he could go in instead of comin straight home that will help in the job support etc...he would hav a bwtter chancein life.p an went back to the only way to live that he knows ialot of inmates could benefit fuirom this..

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