Georgia Prison Reform Reduce Prison Population

Georgia Prison Reform Reduce Prison Population

You probably wouldn’t know it, because the media hardly mentioned it. But, prisoners incarcerated across the state of Georgia held hunger strikes in protest of prison conditions. I;m not sure about the success of those protests because I can’t speak on any documented changes within the system. However, what I can speak to, is the fact that sweeping prison reform will soon take effect throughout the state of Georgia. Now whether said changes are a direct result of those hunger strikes I mentioned earlier is yet to be seen. But at any rate, from the looks of it, Georgia is currently moving in the right direction. Yes, and they’ve certainly come a long way since the days sentencing 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson to ten years in prison for being on the receiving end of an oral sexual encounter with a then 15-year-old girl who happened to be white.

This from Think Progress:

Under two new laws signed Thursday, young offenders and adults arrested for minor offenses in Georgia will no longer be sent to prison. Instead, they will be directed into community-based rehabilitative programs meant to address underlying problems.

After January 1, young people arrested for minor offenses will enter social service programs, skipping the criminal justice system entirely. Those arrested for low-level crimes like drug possession will be diverted into community-based rehab programs. Teenagers who have committed felonies in which no one is hurt will face a maximum of 18 months in prison plus intensive probation for a year and a half. If someone is harmed, the juveniles could be sent to prison for up to 5 years.

The youth law is expected to save $85 million over five years and reduce the juvenile prison population by 640 teenagers, at a rate of $91,000 a year per bed. Currently, there are 1,820 minors in juvenile facilities in Georgia. The youth recidivism rate, now at 65 percent, is also supposed to drop.

Georgia’s school to prison pipeline is among the worst in the nation, with schools frequently using the criminal justice system to discipline kids for minor infractions. A juvenile court judge from Georgia testified last year that one-third of the cases before him were school-related minor offenders who had been arrested by campus police. He also noted an “appalling” racial disparity in the arrests, which were 80 percent African American. As arrests increase, high school graduation rates have plummeted.

Locked In, The Rpoes, Epi 201The other new law establishes alternative program options for adults arrested for non-violent crimes. As of July 1, judges will be given more discretion over drug-related cases, which often have mandatory minimum prison sentences. Instead, expensive prison beds will be reserved for the most violent criminals, while less serious offenses like drug possession, burglary, forgery, or shoplifting will have less severe penalties depending on the scale of the crime.

Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has made a more humane and effective prison system a top priority. At the bill signing, Deal choked up as he described how families have “been cast aside by the system that was in place.” Now that he has signed these two cornerstone bills into law, the governor is already working with community groups on legislation to smooth the transition of inmates back into society and reduce recidivism rates. He has also pledged $10 million in funding for “accountability courts” to make sure defendants work, seek treatment and stay sober.

Sentencing reform has attracted rare bipartisan support all over the country, as conservativeslook for ways to cut costs while liberals oppose excessively harsh and ineffective sentencing. In the past two years, 35 prisons have shuttered in 15 states. However, other states have embraced the private prison industry, which has an abysmal record for security and inmate abuse, and may actually increase incarceration rates.

This is great news for Georgia residents. But as I mentioned, the state still has serious issues to address involving current prisoners houses across the state. As I mentioned, there has been a very long hunger strike in protest of the conditions and discrepancies associated with the treatment of prisoners. In the following video from last year, Bruce Dixon, the managing editor of Black Agenda Report fills us in via The Real News Network.

Watch the video below: