Every governor and president will leave a legacy.
When Gov. Nathan Deal (GA) was sworn in, I knew that Georgia was in safe hands with a proven conservative. But, I never thought he would be known as a huge advocate and facilitator of criminal justice reform.
In the past, conservatives were generally known as “tough on crime.” Being a conservative myself, I often questioned this approach because of the financial burden on taxpayers.
As a criminal defense lawyer, I saw multiple problems in our system that needed to be changed.
Until Deal was elected, I thought that tackling criminal justice reform would doom a conservative candidate who addressed it in a common-sense manner.
I was wrong.
In May 2018, Gov. Nathan Deal signed SB 407, one of the many criminal justice reform bills he has signed during his two terms. SB 407 reforms misdemeanor bail practices, providing increased flexibility and transparency in that area.
SB 407 also provides judges with more opportunities to utilize community service and educational advancement as alternatives to fines or as a condition of probation.
Deal said “In the past eight years, Georgia has become the standard-bearer for many pressing areas of our time, but perhaps none more so than criminal justice reform. For the better part of a decade, we have implemented new reform measures, expanded initiatives of prior years and adjusted our policies where needed to create a criminal justice system that is more efficient and more equitable.”
“This legislation focuses on misdemeanor bail reform, which will make Georgia a safer place to call home for all of its citizens by recognizing that mercy and accountability are not mutually exclusive. The revisions within SB 407 require judges to consider the financial circumstances of an accused individual when determining bail, thereby furthering our efforts to incarcerate only the most serious and violent offenders, rather than individuals who simply cannot afford the costs of bail. By also giving judges additional opportunities to assign community service and educational advancement, we are truly rehabilitating non-violent offenders, not hardening them, and further diverting them from dark and dangerous paths.”
He thanked the members of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform for their eight years of hard work in providing these recommendations, the members of the General Assembly for their overwhelming bipartisan support for the cause, and the sponsors of the legislation for their
leadership. He also expressed his gratitude for the efforts of the agencies tasked with implementing the reforms, the law enforcement and public safety officers who have effectuated the initiatives, and the judges throughout our state who readily adopted the sentencing improvements.
According to Gov. Deal’s Office, the results of criminal justice reform include:
At the start of 2011, Georgia’s prisons were operating at 107 percent of capacity, and the state’s incarceration rate was the fourth-highest in the nation, with 1 in 70 adult Georgians behind bars, expected to further increase in the coming years.
Due to criminal justice reform measures, including the diversion and rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders to accountability courts, our prison population instead declined, and our recidivism rate has decreased, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Between 2009 and 2017, new overall commitments to Georgia’s prison system dropped 18.6 percent. Last year, annual commitments to state prisons reached the lowest number since 2002.
In particular, African-Americans have historically been disproportionately represented in Georgia’s prison system. Between 2009 and 2017, commitments of African-American males dropped 29.7 percent and commitments of African-American females declined 38.2 percent. Overall, the number of African-Americans committed to prison in 2017 was at the lowest level since 1987.
Because of our accountability courts and the emphasis we have placed on rehabilitation measures within our corrections facilities – such as education and jobs-training programs– we are helping those who have made mistakes reclaim their lives and we are making our communities safer. In fact, there was a 24 percent decrease in overall crime between 2008 and 2016.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s legacy will not be surrounded by controversial partisan issues. He will be remembered for his courage in tackling a silent, but huge problem that could have cost him votes and re-election.
As a citizen and fellow lawyer, I thank you for your service, Nathan Deal. Jason W. Swindle, Sr.