Deal talks prison reforms, distances himself from ethics verdict

pramati@macon.comApril 6, 2014 

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal visited Macon on Sunday to sign a local bill and meet with community leaders about incarceration in Georgia.

When he arrived in Macon Sunday morning at Middle Georgia Regional Airport, Deal signed H.B. 896, which was written by state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon. The bill slightly expands the footprint of the Macon-Bibb Community Enhancement Authority beyond the poorest census tracts to certain poor neighboring tracts.

Deal attended the service at Lundy Chapel Baptist Church on Forest Hill Road and later met with local pastors and other community leaders for lunch to discuss the way the state is dealing with nonviolent offenders, attempting to divert them from the prison system as well as rehabilitate those offenders who are in prison.

“The religious community provides much-needed support that we need to re-assimilate them back into society,” Deal said before the lunch meeting, which was closed to the media.

Deal pointed to the success of “accountability courts” -- such as Drug Courts or Juvenile Courts -- that empower a judge to help nonviolent offenders avoid jail time by getting proper treatment. Deal said the courts monitor the offenders for two years and make certain they keep a job and maintain their treatment during that time.

The state also has juvenile courts to aid nonviolent youth offenders avoid prison or youth detention centers, he said.

This year, the state created a framework for Veterans Courts during the most recent legislative session that offer rehab and supervision to veterans who commit nonviolent crimes.

Deal said there are competitive grants available to help cities run these programs.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, attended Sunday’s church service and lunch meeting, and said the state is moving in the right direction.

“Him coming down here and talking about the reforms made in the justice and juvenile justice systems are crucial,” Peake said. “He’s been a real leader in this area, making sure we rehabilitate prisoners so that we don’t have as much return visits (to prison).”

Earlier in the day, Deal distanced himself from a Friday verdict in Fulton County Superior Court that said former Georgia Ethics Commission Director Stacey Kalberman was unfairly ousted from her position because she was pursuing an investigation into Deal’s campaign activities during the 2010 governor’s race. Kalberman was awarded $700,000.

The governor declined to comment on the verdict itself, saying he has no control over the ethics commission.

“I would simply say that any ethics allegations against me were resolved about two years ago,” Deal said. “The only (substantiated allegations) were technical violations, such as failure to list somebody’s name appropriately that was a member of our campaign staff, those kind of technical violations.”

Deal paid $3,350 in fees to resolve those violations in 2012.

Deal’s opponents in his race for re-election were quick to tie him to Friday’s verdict; Republican gubernatorial primary candidate and state school Superintendent John Barge called on the governor to “step aside.”

Deal declined to reply directly when asked about his opponents’ comments Sunday.

“I think the people of this state, when they vote in the primary on May the 20th, will respond to them appropriately,” he said.

Two other lawsuits stemming from Kalberman’s dismissal remain outstanding.

Adam Ragusea of Georgia Public Broadcasting and information from Telegraph archives contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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