Chief Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein in her 2011 State of Judiciary Address wisely notes that our current criminal system is unaffordable.
Keeping our citizens safe is one of government’s fundamental obligations. Indeed our Georgia Constitution requires the government to protect the public safety. The courts play a crucial role in doing so.
Today, Georgia stands on the brink of making significant reform in how it sentences criminal offenders. A national wave of sentencing reform is sweeping the country, and it holds bright promise for Georgia.
Last September, Rep. Wendall Willard and I attended a conference in Alabama called by the Chief Justice of that state to consider the prospect of sentencing reform. Alabama is currently at 120 percent of prison capacity. Georgia is not far behind, at 106 percent. The fact is, there are a lot of people in prison who are a greater threat to themselves than to society. Rather than lock up drug addicts and the mentally ill, we must reserve our prison beds for our most serious criminals – those who commit violent crimes; those who commit crimes against children.
Many states, including Texas and South Carolina, have discovered they can keep the public safer and spend less money by supervising some non-violent offenders outside of prison and treating the root causes of crime.
Georgia’s leaders in all three branches of government recognize that we can no longer afford the more than $1 billion it costs us annually to maintain the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. Today, one of every 13 Georgians is behind bars or on probation or parole. That is the highest rate in the nation of people under some kind of criminal justice restraint. Ladies and gentlemen, Georgia has proven we can be tough on crime, with mandatory minimum sentences that allow no chance for parole. But are we any safer? And at what cost?
Unfortunately, there will always be those who commit crimes. But we cannot continue to build more prisons.
Local Judges are aware of the overcrowding and cost of incarceration, and are willing to consider alternatives if offered. A good lawyer helps in presenting these options at the onset of non-violent criminal charges....
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