Georgia taxpayers spend $1 billion dollars a year locking up criminals in prison. An eye-opening analysis by the Atlanta Journal Constitution shows one in 70 Georgians is behind bars and each offender costs $49 a day. It is not because the state has more crime, but because sentencing laws are tougher here, keeping criminals behind bars longer. In the first of a two-part series, the AJC raises questions about Georgia’s tough-on-crime stand, and whether it’s worth the cost at a time when the state is cutting teachers, transportation and critical programs. Even some conservative policymakers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) are studying alternatives to prison. In a surprising interview, Gingrich argues treatment programs for non-violent offenders work, and can be safer and less expensive.
In part two, the AJC reports about 2-thirds of inmates locked up are non-violent. For them, alternatives such as drug courts and work-release might work and save money. Other states across the south, such as Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas are working on research-based alternatives.