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Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 1:03pm

Top Judge Surveys Georgia Judiciary

The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court says the state’s goal of boosting the number of so-called accountability courts will increase public safety. Justice Carol Hunstein made the remarks to the state legislature in her annual State of the Judiciary Wednesday.

Chief Justice Hunstein says no one doubts that Georgia is tough on crime.

In 1994, she said the state declared a sentencing policy of ‘two strikes and you’re out’ – tougher than the national trend of imposing a life sentence after the third serious offense.

But she says non-violent offenders become hardened criminals in prison:

“The bottom line is: all those three-year mandatory minimum sentences and get-tough prison measures did little to reduce our three-year reconviction rate, which has held steady for the past decade at nearly 30 percent,” she said.

In last year’s speech, Hunstein urged lawmakers to tackle sentencing reform. Soon after, Gov. Nathan Deal created a task force that’s now recommending the state set up specialized courts to deal with low-level drug offenses and other non-violent crimes.

In her speech, Justice Hunstein said it’s time to consider a similar reform for juvenile offenders.

She says state cuts to social services are taking a toll.

“Juvenile judges are too often faced with sending young people to locked facilities to get some kind of treatment or sending them home, where they get no treatment at all,” she said.

There are already 100 specialized courts in Georgia for offenders suffering from drug addiction or mental illness.

Deal is seeking $10 million in the 2013 budget for these courts.

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