When former Governor Nathan Deal left office because of term limits, many people across the state believed that his legacy, criminal justice reform, left with him.
They were wrong.
This year, lawmakers introduced several reform measures that have already been signed by Governor Brian Kemp. Next year, the General Assembly appears to be ready to introduce even bigger reforms. Here are two laws that passed this year and one that should pass next year:
- Rep. Sharon Cooper R-Marietta introduced legislation to prohibit the unnecessary shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor and childbirth, and for good reason. The use of such restraints increases a woman’s likelihood of tripping and falling, which too often leads to miscarriages. The shackles can also impede medical workers’ ability to provide critical care during childbirth. This obviously risks the health of both the mother and the child. (Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan R-Carrollton was a co-sponsor).
- Sen. P.K. Martin R-Lawrenceville, sponsored a bill related to professional licensing. While it addresses many issues, one section targets licensing boards’ power to reject applications based on vague guidelines. Under these policies, if board members determine that applicants aren’t people “of good moral character,” then they can deny their application. These provisions are can be an arbitrary and unofficial means of rejecting applicants with criminal records. This keeps those who have paid their debt to society out of work, increases the cost of public assistance, burdens taxpayers, and encourages these folks to return to a life of crime.
- Rep. Mandi Ballinger R-Canton, filed a proposal that would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old. Georgia is one of only four states that automatically treats certain minors as adults in the justice system. This disastrous action places youths in the adult system which ensures that they will be at a higher risk of being physically and sexually abused by other inmates, learn the “more sophisticated” techniques of how to commit crimes, and forces them to have an adult criminal record.
Additionally, these youths rarely receive the care that they need in adult facilities because the programs in these prisons are not geared toward children. All of this accounts for the higher recidivism rates of youths who are placed in adult prisons as opposed to juvenile facilities. (Rep. J. Collins R-Villa Rica co-sponsored this proposal).
Cooper’s and Martin’s bills easily passed through both chambers with minimal opposition and were signed by the governor. Ballinger’s proposals survive into the 2020 session. Because of her reputation, the support from some of the most respected lawmakers, and little vocal opposition, I expect that she will be successful.
Criminal justice reform did not retire with Nathan Deal. His “smart on crime” transformation in Georgia is being furthered by the next generation of public servants in our state.
Thank you, Nathan Deal. Your legacy is being honored.