Gov. Deal Says Juvenile Justice Will Likely Be Part of New Prison System Reform Initiative

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Governor Nathan Deal says juvenile justice system reform will likely be a critical part of a new bi-partisan initiative aimed at overhauling Georgia’s criminal justice system.

“I would hope that we would be able to include juvenile justice in our review,” Gov. Deal told JJIE.org shortly after a news conference announcing the initiative at the state capitol Wednesday. “That is one of the fastest growing populations, so stemming that tide could play a major role in what we are trying to accomplish.”

State legislative leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb), Attorney General Sam Olens and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle joined the governor in announcing plans to assemble a new special council that they will all take part in. Legislation introduced today by Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette) calls for a council to study criminal justice reforms and make  recommendations to a joint legislative committee no later than January 9, 2012. Rep. Neal’s HB 265 was touted as the “backbone” of the commission charged with providing solutions to Georgia’s high incarceration rate, the fourth highest in the country. Alternatives to incarceration and a review of Georgia’s mandatory sentencing are among the topics that the group will review.

“We spend approximately $6,003 a year per university or college student; We spend approximately $18,000 per person to incarcerate an adult each year,” Gov. Deal said. “That math simply does not work for Georgia.”

Improving rehabilitative efforts and lowering prison costs are among the main objectives of this bi-partisan commission that will take a “systematic, comprehensive look,”  Gov. Deal said.

Lt. Governor Cagle said criminal justice reform is long overdue and he welcomes this opportunity to engage in a "serious discussion" about criminal activity in the state.“If it leads to a safer society and a more effective way to protect society, I’m all for it,” he said.

Lt. Governor Cagle says the primary role of government is to protect its citizens but “the punishment should match the crime” committed. He voiced his support for more sentencing options for judges, calling it  “good for our society.”

Justice Hunstein too applauded the bipartisan initiative. “We are united in our conviction that Georgia can no longer spend over $1 billion a year maintaining the fourth highest incarceration rate in the nation,” she said.

In is address, Gov. Deal also noted that:

  • Nationally 1 of 100 adults are behind bars.
  • Nationally 3.6 percent of children have a parent behind bars.
  • In Georgia, one adult in every 13 is under some form of correctional control.
  • Georgia spends over a billion dollars per year incarcerating some 60,000 adult inmates.

Speaker Ralston applauded Rep. Abrams and Rep. Neal and called the new initiative an example of “Georgians working together to solve problems.”

Added Speaker Ralston: “For those who say this is about being soft on crime, we are exercising sensible and responsible solutions to a serious problem in Georgia.”

Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell) called the  announcement “historic” and “exciting.”

“Representation from three branches of government shows that we can all come together and address serious problems in the state,” said Rep. Thomas Morgan, a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member. “My only request is that they diversify the representation of the group. With people of color being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, we need to make sure that we are seated at the table.”

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.

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