Georgia lawmakers are looking at legislation that could cut the state’s probation rate.
Some offenders who behave could get a quicker transition off probation under a new proposal. It’s one of the main points in a bill inspired by the latest recommendations of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a group named by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
One of its co-chairmen, Carey Miller, told a panel of state senators that the one of the major focuses of the council’s latest work has been felony probation.
“We were able to do a deep dive into the data underlying Georgia’s high probation rate. Georgia has the highest probation rate in the nation, right around 6,100 individuals on probation per every 100,000 residents,” Miller told lawmakers.
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“To put that in perspective, the national average is actually about 1,500 people per 100,000 residents. The idea was to consider the issues that were driving that probation population. The result of that is what you have before you,” said Miller, who is also deputy executive counsel in the governor’s office.
One of the council’s recommendations is to reduce lengthy probation sentences for certain nonviolent offenses as an incentive for good behavior.
So to work on that, one of the bills picks out 22 nonviolent felonies, such as some categories of smash-and-grab burglary or theft. First-time felons sentenced to probation for those crimes would also get a sort of review date — a “behavioral incentive date” — not longer than three years out from the start of the sentence. If that person sticks to the terms of probation, pays any restitution and avoids serious trouble with the law, the state would petition the court to have the probation terminated.
Broadly, many of the changes that are also in Senate Bill 174 are meant to give the state some flexibility to focus on supervising folks who most need the attention.
State Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, sponsored the bill. He pointed out that for several years, the governor has offered and passed criminal justice bills.
“I think that many, certainly our chamber, the House and I think the public, understands and appreciates the value of what Gov. Deal has brought and the pride to Georgia of … being on the forefront of criminal justice reform. And I think what we bring to you this year is yet an another example of that,” Kennedy told his fellow senators ahead of the hearing.
Criminal justice reforms have become some of Deal’s signature policies. On his watch, the Legislature has approved or funded programs that are meant to prioritize prison beds for the most violent criminals and, where possible, divert other folks to alternatives. That has included more education programs for prisoners who will be released and “accountability courts” that offer intense supervision, counseling or rehabilitation to certain offenders.
The work started in 2011, when Deal and the Legislature first created a council to look into the growth of the state’s prison population and the growing price of housing prisoners.
The latest report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform found that in 2009, 58 percent of the state’s prison beds were occupied by the most serious offenders, and now the figure is 67 percent.
Lawmakers on a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee approved the bill unanimously after about an hour-long presentation and discussion. They also approved Senate bills 175 and 176, shorter bills that make adjustments to juvenile justice processes and some rules on driving privileges.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee