Over the past five years, Georgia has adopted innovative policies to improve the state’s criminal justice system by diverting some people from prison while still holding them accountable, focusing prison space on people convicted of the most serious and violent offenses, and expanding accountability courts. Georgia experienced a 6-percent decrease in the prison population between 2012 and 2015, which averted about $264 million in corrections costs and allowed the state to reinvest about $57 million in strategies to reduce recidivism, such as accountability courts, vocational and on-the-job training programs, the Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) facilities and programs.

Despite these improvements 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—which amounts to 1 in 17 adults in the state—compared to the national average of 1,568 per 100,000 residents. The state also has the eighth-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, the decline in Georgia’s prison population began to slow in 2014, and the prison population is projected to increase by 2 percent by 2020.

In May 2016, Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and House Speaker David Ralston requested that The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center assist the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (Council) in addressing these challenges. Georgia’s Council subsequently established subcommittees to analyze felony sentencing trends and the effectiveness of probation and develop recommendations. The subcommittees, co-chaired by Judge Michael P. Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals and Carey A. Miller, Esq., Deputy Executive Counsel, Office of the Governor, and composed of members from all three branches of government and state and local criminal justice stakeholders, met multiple times beginning in July 2016 to review analyses and develop policy options, which the Council unanimously approved in November 2016.

Sponsored by Senators John Kennedy, Butch Miller, P. K. Martin, Larry Walker, David Shafer, and Mike Dugan, and signed by Governor Deal on May 9, 2017, Senate Bill (SB) 174 codifies the justice reinvestment policy framework developed by the Council. It includes policies to reduce lengthy probation terms and probation officer caseloads and improve responses to supervision violations. SB 174 is expected to reduce the projected felony probation population by more than 43,000 people, partly due to a shift of almost 30,000 cases to unsupervised status between FY2018 and FY2022, which will allow Georgia to avert $7.3 million in spending that would have been required to hire additional probation officers.