Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 349 into law Thursday, granting judges more latitude to avoid meting out mandatory minimum sentences, particularly regarding the state’s drug-related cases.
“Public safety will be improved by giving prosecutors leverage in certain cases and by ensuring that our prison resources are reserved for the kingpins while the mules are given a chance at reform,” Deal told the Associated Press.
Under the bill, drug court defendants, alongside those enrolled in mental health programs, will be eligible for restricted driving permits, pending they meet specific requirements as part of their respective programs. Additionally, defendants in such programs, who obtained HOPE GED vouchers while in jail, are now allowed to use their earned credits for a two-year period following their release.
The signing of the bill also officially establishes the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Commission (GCJRC), charged with reviewing both the state’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. Under the new council, Deal will appoint 15 members, of which 10 will be state officials.
With four-year terms, members of the GCJRC will conduct justice system reviews a minimum of every two years. The commission grew out of a 2011 Legislature vote authorizing the establishment of a committee to oversee Georgia’s adult prison and sentencing data; review of the state’s juvenile justice system was added to the commission’s official set of tasks by Deal last year.