Justice Reinvestment in Georgia
Since 2012, Georgia has adopted innovative policies to improve the state’s criminal justice system by diverting some people from prison while still holding them accountable, prioritizing prison space for 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 and sustain improvements in areas 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, however, the state had the highest probation rate in the country, with 1 in 17 adults on probation, and the eighth-highest prison incarceration rate.
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 challenges within the state’s criminal justice system. 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 six times between July and November 2016 to review analyses and develop policy options for the Council’s consideration.
Senate Bill (SB) 174 codified the Justice Reinvestment policy framework developed by the Council and included policies to reduce lengthy probation terms and large probation caseloads, improve both the effect and cost-effectiveness of responses to probation and parole violations, and improve the handling of legal financial obligations for people on felony probation. Sponsored by Senators John Kennedy (R-District 18), Butch Miller (R-District 49), P.K. Martin (R-District 9), Larry Walker (R-District 20), David Shafer (R-District 48), and Mike Dugan (R-District 30), SB 174 passed unanimously in both the Georgia House and Senate and was signed into law as Act 226 by Governor Deal on May 9, 2017. Act 226 is expected to reduce the projected felony probation population by more than 44,000 people between Fiscal Year (FY)2018 and FY2022, partly due to a shift of almost 30,000 people from active supervision to unsupervised status between FY2018 and FY2022. Act 226 is also projected to reduce the actively supervised felony probation population by 38 percent.
The CSG Justice Center provided implementation assistance by coordinating a pilot of the state’s early termination from probation policy, conducting an analysis of the RSAT program, developing performance measures to monitor policy impacts, and facilitating the creation of a joint agency data dashboard. From April 2016 to February 2019, Georgia’s active felony probation population declined 16 percent and contributed to a reduction in caseload size from 138 cases to approximately 115 cases per supervising officer. Georgia also increased the number of cases on unsupervised status by 67 percent between April 2016 and December 2019.