It’s called recidivism. Commit a crime, get convicted, go to prison, serve your time, get released, then start all over again. Commit a crime, get convicted, go to prison, serve your time, get released, etc.
We house about 56,000 Georgians in prison. How many of these men and women hop on this merry-go-round called recidivism? About 16,800 a year. And what do you think this tragedy costs the taxpayers? About $52 million a year.
Last year, Georgia’s General Assembly passed House Bill 1176, containing a package of reforms that will save us a great deal of that money, but it won’t solve our problem. We need a plan.
Let me tell you about Charlie (that’s not his real name). Twelve years ago, Charlie was 15. His initiation into his new Macon gang included holding up a convenience store with an unloaded gun, and he was caught going out the door. Ten years, no parole. But wait. “He’s only 15, and this was his first offense.” Doesn’t matter. Send him off to live side by side with 100 murderers, rapists, thieves and pedophiles for 10 years and then release him with the words: “Now be a good citizen.” Today, Charlie’s 27. Fortunately, this Charlie has a mentor, but how about those who don’t? The statistics tell us that within three years, the other Charlies will no doubt be back in prison. What can we do about this? Does anyone have a plan?
Lee Robinson has a plan. Lee is a former Georgia state senator and former Macon mayor. He now heads up a dedicated and tireless group of 18 defense attorneys called public defenders. Lee’s plan is simple. He calls it “pre” and “post.” He’s been working on it for several years.
“Pre” means an early intervention program. If Lee’s team can intervene before someone like Charlie is sentenced, maybe they can turn these nonviolent criminals around. I can only imagine what my Charlie would be like today if he had somehow finished high school and then attended Central Georgia Technical College. A carpenter, maybe, or even a chef, a man with a trade who could become that “good citizen” we all want.
“Post” means Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-entry initiative for prisoners who are not given a parole officer. A re-entry system from the prison back into society. Lee wants to connect his office to this statewide plan. If Lee’s team can capture Charlie as he walks out the prison door after 10 years with the worst kind of mentors and teachers and adult supervision, and help him re-enter our society and not re-enter prison, the team will be saving more than millions of dollars. They’ll be saving a valuable human life.
Can Lee do this? Can he get his plan funded and tested and executed? I don’t know. He has many hoops to jump through with many politicians to convince and many foundations to tap. But I know one thing: If he didn’t make a plan, he wouldn’t have a chance. If he just went to work each day and provided legal defense for the thousands of indigent Georgians accused of crimes and did nothing to stop this travesty, it would never stop.
Lee has a plan for his dream. Do you have one for yours?
Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.