Criminal Justice Council Recommends Changes To Probation

Feb 22, 2017

State officials are recommending changes to help reduce what they say is the highest rate of felons on probation in the country.

In a report submitted to Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday, the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform said doing so would have several positive results, including reducing heavy caseloads for probation officers and allowing the officers to focus more on higher-risk offenders.

Currently, the council's report noted, probation is widely employed in Georgia as a sentence, either in lieu of or combined with imprisonment. Georgia also imposes relatively long felony probation sentences, the report says.

The council's recommendations include using probation, programming and treatment to reduce recidivism for first-time nonviolent offenders convicted of drug or property crimes; offering to shorten probation sentences as an incentive for good behavior; and focusing more supervision earlier in an offender's probation term.

The report says the Department of Community Supervision has already begun to move from reactive to proactive probation enforcement.

The council also makes recommendations for the parole system, including providing alternatives to incarceration if parole is revoked and having the State Board of Pardons and Paroles consider commuting the sentence of a parolee serving a split sentence for a nonviolent drug or property crime who has successfully completed a year of supervision.

The report also outlines some changes that can help offenders succeed in society once they leave prison, including helping them get driver's licenses or state IDs and expanding a program that helps with housing after prison.

For the juvenile justice system, the council recommends steps to deal with juvenile offenders who are found incompetent to stand trial but who are deemed public-safety risks. It also suggests encouraging parental accountability, if appropriate, for children who are repeat offenders.

The governor's office said in a news release that many of the council's recommendations are already included in proposed legislation submitted to the General Assembly for consideration.

The effort for comprehensive criminal-justice reform in Georgia began with a bill in 2011 that created the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians and charged it with looking into ways to reduce the growth of the prison population, address increasing costs, hold offenders accountable and improve public safety.

When the criminal-justice reform effort began, the state's prison population was expected to top 60,000 by the end of 2016, at an additional cost of $264 million, Deal said in a news release. Instead, he said, the reforms have saved millions and reinvested more than $47 million back into the system.

The report notes positive results of policies implemented in previous years, including a decrease in the prison population from 54,895 in July 2012 to 52,962 at the end of last year. It also highlights a change in the type of inmates who are in prison, with the most serious offenders now making up 67 percent of the state's inmates, versus 58 percent at the start of 2009.

Accountability courts, which numbered 139 across the state at the beginning of this year, have seen a 147 percent increase in new participants from 2013 to 2016, the report says.

"In implementing these common sense reforms, we are taking steps to preserve families, address the underlying issues associated with incarceration and provide offenders with meaningful second chances," Deal said.