Governor Nathan Deal signed into law Wednesday comprehensive sentencing reform legislation.
The new law makes penalties tougher for career criminals while low-level offenders will be provided rehabilitative options. 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.
Georgia drug court judges see the changes as a way to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate addicts.
Athens-Clarke County drug court judge Lawton Stephens has been running a felony drug court for the past year and welcomes the changes.
“I really have come to understand how important it is, for people who have drug offenses, sometimes multiple drug offenses, and how they need to receive treatment to maintain a sober lifestyle, because if they go into prison an addict, they’re going to come out an addict, unless they receive intense counseling, treatment and are regularly tested.”
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.
While signing the bill Wednesday, Governor Deal recalled visiting court ceremonies in Hall and Dawson counties, where drug offenders were “graduating” from rehab.
“To listen to the stories, the lives that have been changed, the families that have been reunited, had a tremendous emotional effect on me. I don’t know anyone who’s been to a graduation ceremony of a drug court who comes away saying that they don’t believe there’s a better way. This is the better way.”
The legislation received bi-partisan support, passing unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature.