Sentencing reform legislation is awaiting Governor Nathan Deal’s signature.
The bill promises to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, reduce the state’s prison population and improve overall public safety.
Georgia drug court judges see the changes as a way to mend families and reduce recidivism.
The bill will strengthen penalties for career criminals while providing rehabilitative options for low-level offenders. It’s an effort to reserve costly prison beds for the most violent criminals while saving the state tens of millions of dollars in projected correctional spending.
Athens-Clarke County drug court judge Lawton Stephens has seen first-hand the success of rehabilitation:
“They’re able to reconnect with their families, they’re able to re-establish relationships with their children and with their friends and they have coping strategies for living healthy lifestyles. With that training and ability they’ve been given through the drug court programs, they’re much less likely to re-offend.”
But increasing the number of offenders in in-patient and out-patient rehab will come at a price. Ken Wilson, with Stepping Stones to Recovery, in Savannah says his facility is already underfunded and needs adequate resources to meet the needs of new patients:
“This year we have not been able to get funding and the partner and parole system is looking daily, because someone has to pay the bills, someone has to pay that food and that insurance and the 5000 a month building payment, it’s either the parole system or the state or it comes out of my salary, and if it comes out my salary, we won’t be treating anyone, of course.”
One in 13 Georgians is behind bars, on probation or on parole, according to the Pew Center on the States.
That’s the highest rate of correctional control in the nation and more than the double the national average of one in 31.