A bill that would allow for the creation of a commission to study criminal sentencing in Georgia is enjoying bipartisan legislative support. The proposal would create a commission that would review Georgia’s sentencing laws. Currently, the proposal has the full support of Georgia's governor Nathan Deal, as well as legislators from both chambers. The panel would submit recommendations to legislators by the end of the year.
Much of the support for the creation of the commission arises from the fact that Georgia's prison system is strained to the point of breaking. Prison costs have skyrocketed over the past few years, and with that, even conservative lawmakers who have traditionally been for tougher incarceration have seen the logic in sentencing reform that would reduce costs in a tough economy. Older policies were designed to lock up criminals for even minor offenses, and keep them incarcerated for long periods of time. That has resulted in one in every 13 Georgians being currently imprisoned, on probation or on parole.
These policies have led to prisons that are stuffed to bursting capacity and grossly inflated corrections budgets. In 1988, the cost of incarcerating inmates in Georgia was about $12 billion. By 2008, it had grossly inflated to more than $50 billion. Georgia already spends about $1 billion a year to lock up people. Georgia criminal defense lawyers have been glad to see a dawning wisdom that the state simply cannot keep spending this much money on keeping so many people in prison for long periods of time.
Sentencing reform that would allow for low-level, nonviolent offenders to have reduced sentences or receive other kind of help including therapy, rehabilitation and job training, would make much more sense. This would not just reduce the strain on our prison system, but could also have the benefit of reducing recidivism rates.