From 1990 to 2011, the adult prison population in Georgia had more than doubled to nearly 56,000 inmates, and state spending on corrections jumped right along with that growth. Georgia’s incarceration rates are the 4th highest in the nation; 1 in 70 adults behind bars, and the state’s recidivism rate had been stuck at about 30 percent for a decade. After two decades of dramatic growth in the prison population, state spending on corrections had grown exponentially to more than $1 billion annually.
Starting in 2011, former Governor Deal (D) implemented a series of bipartisan reforms that are already paying dividends. He signed legislation that created the bipartisan, inter-branch Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for the state of Georgia. The Special Council’s order was to make aware of the state’s increase in prison population, contain corrections costs, and increase better results in offender management. Since 2011, measures were passed to direct non-violent offenders to probation treatments and other alternatives (2012) as well as to prohibit unnecessary shackling of women who are pregnant and postpartum, and establish restrictions on strip searches and examinations (2019). Additionally, State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) introduced legislation in 2019, which would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old.
Through these efforts, Georgia has avoided the need for 5,000 additional prison beds over five years and saved taxpayers at least $264 million. When Governor Deal took office, Georgia was in the midst of a criminal justice crisis. Today, Georgia is widely recognized as a national leader in adopting evidence-based criminal justice reforms that continue to deliver better public safety outcomes at a lower cost.
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