Deal: Bill makes ‘great strides’ in advancing criminal justice reforms

April 27, 2016

Gov. Nathan Deal today at a press conference signed SB 367, legislation that provides for comprehensive reform for offenders entering, proceeding through and leaving the criminal justice system, into law. This legislation, which is based on recommendations from the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, builds upon Deal’s previous criminal justice reform initiatives.

“This legislation is the latest step in advancing our criminal justice reforms,” Deal said. “Along with restoring the original intent of the First Offender Act, this bill increases access to charter schools in our prison system and seeks to address the ‘school to prison pipeline.’ If a minor enters the corrections system and is sent to a youth detention center, even just once, they are significantly more likely to offend again. We need to divert these children from a life of imprisonment and difficulty in order for them to lead a successful life. This bill makes great strides in reducing our recidivism rates, ensuring safer communities and expanding our accountability court system. The incentives included in this legislation are cost-effective strategies that will increase the number of former offenders returning to the workforce and supporting their families.”

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, as a result of the reforms previously passed by the legislature, Georgia’s overall prison population has decreased to roughly 53,800 inmates as of March 31. The percentage of those incarcerated for a non-violent first offense has significantly dropped, and prison beds are now reserved for violent criminals.

Among other initiatives, this legislation:

  • Restores the intent of the First Offender Act, updating the process for the 21st century to ensure that cases are properly closed upon completion of sentences
  • Codifies Georgia’s accountability courts in order to grant them the authority they need to efficiently administer justice to those under their purview
  • Restricts secure detention for all youth ages 13 and under, except for those charged with the most egregious of offenses where a clear public safety issue exists
  • Adjusts public school disruption statutes so that students are appropriately handled through the disciplinary process rather than sent to a youth detention center or delinquent facility
  • Removes the lifetime ban on food stamp eligibility after a felony drug conviction, subject to the successful completion of their sentence and probation
  • Extends parole eligibility to non-violent recidivist drug offenders, allowing them the needed transition period for proper reentry upon completion of their sentences
  • Furthers last year’s executive order “banning the box” for most state government jobs, now expanding to licensure applications

View a portion of the bill signing ceremony here.