Fighting crime in ways that work

BY DUSTY NIX
dnix@ledger-enquirer.com

centerpiece achievement of Nathan Deal’s two terms as Georgia governor has been his focus on reforming the state’s criminal justice sentencing, probation and rehabilitation systems. Most significant changes proposed by political officials are called “reforms”; by all accounts, this really is one.

One of the burdens Deal inherited as governor was a dangerously crowded, prohibitively expensive corrections system, packed to bursting by years of get-tough non-discretionary sentencing laws enacted by legislators who too often were oblivious to (or just ignored) inevitable consequences for immediate political gain.

By the time Deal took office, the bill had long since come due. The governor assembled a panel officially dubbed the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform to examine the state’s justice and corrections systems, and the results have been laws and policy changes that have already paid both economic and human dividends.

One reason this council had a good chance of being effective from the outset is that it’s made up of people who know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about in terms of criminal justice. State lawmakers, law enforcement officers, district attorneys, defense attorneys both public and private, court administrators, and jurists from juvenile court to the state Supreme Court are all among its members.

“When Georgia began pursuing criminal justice reform,” Deal wrote on the Governor’s Office website, “the prison population was expected to exceed 60,000 by the end of 2016, costing the state an additional $264 million. Instead, we saved millions of taxpayer dollars and reinvested more than $47 million of that savings in accountability courts, job training, the reentry initiative and Residential Substance Abuse Treatment facilities.”