Since he took office, Gov. Deal has considered criminal justice reform to be a high priority. He and lawmakers have created a much needed overhaul in Georgia.
The overhaul started in his first term with changes that allowed Georgia to place nonviolent offenders into alternative programs instead of expensive prison beds. Early on, reforms also gave judges a little more discretion to depart from mandatory sentences.
The second phase involved similar legislation that aimed at keeping young offenders out of juvenile detention centers who were convicted of drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses.
But, the work and adjustments continue through 2016. Recently, Deal signed legislation that further changes how Georgia deals with crime, justice, and fiscal responsibility.
Senate Bill 367, will expand the accountability court network, create new charter schools in prisons and shield some criminal records of first offenders. Both ideas are on the spot; particularly accountability courts.
Accountability courts, like mental health courts, are changing the way that we treat those with moderate to severe mental illnesses. When the funding aspect of these courts can be solved, we will see a significant increase in their numbers.
Moving ahead.
SB 367 will allow some defendants, who have served their sentences, keep their driver’s licenses and receive some limited government assistance, like food stamps.
Also, the new law provides inmates who have served lengthy prison sentences for drug-related offenses or non-violent felonies a chance to be eligible for parole when they would not otherwise be eligible.
Another critical aspect to SB 367 that I see affect many people is the provision that blocks state licensing boards from requiring most people with criminal histories to disclose that information on a job form. This increases high paying job growth in Georgia and fills the coffers of the state with tax revenue.
Lastly, the bill aims at society at a time when people are the most treatable; the juvenile court stage. SB 367 allows juvenile courts to create “family treatment” divisions to address drug and alcohol abuse in a child’s early years of development. It also gives the power to the state to launch charter schools within Youth Detention Centers that can award graduates high school diplomas.
Like the reforms over the past few years, most of these changes were implemented with little opposition. However, some First Amendment groups and employers worried that these changes would limit the right of free speech and hamper responsible hiring procedures.