Over the past five years, leaders from across the political spectrum in Georgia have come together to develop innovative policy reforms to improve the state’s criminal justice system. In 2011, the state’s prison population was projected to grow 8 percent by 2016, which would have cost the state $264 million to add capacity to accommodate. The Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (Council) guided a data-driven effort based on evidence-based practices to address growth in the state’s prison population, hold people involved with the criminal justice system accountable, reduce spending on corrections, and reduce recidivism. Georgia experienced a 6-percent decrease in its prison population between 2012 and 2015, which averted these costs, thereby allowing the state to reinvest more than $85 million in recidivism-reduction strategies, such as expanding accountability courts and strengthening community supervision. As Georgia’s prison population declined, the state’s index crime rate decreased almost 4 percent from 2012 to 2014.

Despite these reforms to Georgia’s criminal justice system, there is further work to be done. The state has the highest probation rate in the country, with 6,161 adults on probation per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 1,568 per 100,000 residents. This means that 1 in 17 adults in Georgia is on probation. The state also has the 8th-highest prison incarceration rate in the country, with 686 adults incarcerated per 100,000 residents, compared to 612 adults incarcerated per 100,000 residents nationally. Additionally, Georgia’s decreasing prison population began to level off in 2014 and is projected to increase by 2 percent in the next five years.

In May 2016, Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and House Speaker David Ralston requested support to employ a justice reinvestment approach to further improve Georgia’s criminal justice system, particularly by examining areas related to the probation and incarceration rates. BJA and Pew, as public-private partners in the federal Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), approved Georgia’s request and asked The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to provide intensive technical assistance to help collect and analyze data and develop appropriate policy options for the state.

Over the coming months, CSG staff will conduct a comprehensive analysis of extensive data sets collected from various state agencies and departments to build a broad picture of statewide criminal justice trends.

Based on findings from these exhaustive quantitative and qualitative analyses, the Georgia Council will develop policy options for the general assembly’s consideration in 2017.


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