Chief Justice Carol Hunstein says it's time for Georgia to reform its tough criminal sentences.
In her annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the state Legislature on Wednesday, Hunstein said many inmates clogging Georgia's prisons "are a greater threat to themselves than to society."
Hunstein said rather than locking up drug addicts and the mentally ill, "we must reserve our prison beds for our most serious criminals." Alternative sentences should be offered to improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.
Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol, Hunstein will appear with Gov. Nathan Deal to announce plans for a panel that would make recommendations on sentencing changes next year.
Georgia spends more than $1 billion a year on its prison budget. And Deal in his inaugural address said that the state cannot afford to continue to lock up nonviolent offenders and supports alternative sentencing for those with drug addictions.
A study for the Pew Center on the States found that one in 13 Georgians is in prison, on probation or on parole. That's the highest rate in the nation.
The new panel would make its recommendations in 2012.