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HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 2016, after seeing positive results from the state's first justice reinvestment engagement, Georgia officials decided to undertake a second JRI effort. With technical assistance from the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center), the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (Council) analyzed the state's criminal justice drivers and developed policy recommendations with a focus on its probation population.
  • Data analysis identified the wide use of probation as a sentence in lieu of incarceration, in combination with imprisonment (split sentence) and long probation terms, as key drivers of Georgia's high probation population.
  • Governor Nathan Deal signed Senate Bill (SB) 174 into law in May 2017. Measures in the bill focus resources on the front end of the system, reduce lengthy probation terms and large probation caseloads, and continue to reduce recidivism.
  • SB 174 is projected to reduce the felony probation population by more than 43,000 people, partly by shifting almost 30,000 cases to unsupervised status between FY 2018 and FY 2022. This reduction should enable Georgia to avert $7.3 million in spending that would have been needed to hire additional probation officers.
  • Georgia received a JRI Maximizing State Reforms award in 2014 to enhance the Prisoner Reentry Initiative by hiring seven additional in-reach specialists to meet with eligible participants before release to develop reentry case plans.

Georgia saw great success in improving its criminal justice system outcomes with efforts made in its first engagement with JRI and subsequent efforts focused on reentry services. As a next phase of its work, Georgia decided to focus on the felony probation system. In April 2016, Georgia had both the highest number and rate of people on probation in the nation, with 6,161 people on probation per 100,000 residents compared to 1,568 people on probation per 100,000 people nationally. 1

Georgia's second JRI engagement was coordinated by the Council, which was created in 2011 for its first JRI engagement and has continued to focus on strengthening the justice system. The Council is an interbranch, bipartisan group with representatives from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Two subcommittees were created to focus on probation and sentencing.2

In addition to the Council, a variety of stakeholders were part of the deliberation process. A range of groups were invited to share their views and participate in discussions.3

Feedback and input from stakeholders helped inform policy options.

The Council, led by the two subcommittees focusing on probation and sentencing, spent months reviewing Georgia's probation, prison, sentencing, and arrest data. The CSG Justice Center helped the subcommittees identify drivers through data analysis. The Council's review found two primary factors that contributed to Georgia's high probation rate. The first factor is the wide use of probation as a sentence in lieu of incarceration in combination with imprisonment—a "split" sentence. The second factor is Georgia's practice of imposing lengthy felony probation terms.4

The Council finalized its policy recommendations at the end of 2016 to address the drivers of the large probation population. These included reforms to reduce lengthy probation sentences for certain offenses, frontload active probation supervision to reduce caseloads, and deliver more meaningful supervision.5 Another recommended reform was to make better use of probation, programming, and treatment to reduce recidivism among people convicted of a first or second drug or property offenses by creating a rebuttable presumption of probation.

Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 174 into law on May 9, 2017. Measures in the bill focus on strengthening Georgia's probation system.6 The bill aims to address the drivers of the state's probation population by reducing lengthy probation terms and the caseload for probation officers and improve responses to violations. To encourage success on probation, people sentenced for first time offenses will receive a behavioral incentive date: If a person remains in compliance with their supervision requirements, does not commit any new crimes, and paid all of the required restitution by this date, the judge may reduce that person's probation term from an average of 5 years to no more than 3.

Reforms are projected to reduce the probation population by more than 43,000 people and avert $7.3 million that the state would have had to spent to hire additional probation officers.

Over the course of two decades, from 1990 through 2011, Georgia's prison population more than doubled, reaching nearly 56,000 people. Corrections expenditures increased as well, from $492 million in fiscal year (FY) 1990 to $1 billion in FY 2012. While corrections populations and associated costs continued to grow, Georgia's citizens did not experience a corresponding increase in public safety. Georgia expected to house nearly 60,000 people in its prisons by 2016, at an additional cost of $264 million.7 In 2011, the governor signed House Bill (HB) 265, which created the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.

With technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew), the Council analyzed the drivers of the state's prison population. Data analysis found that much of the growth in Georgia's state corrections population was the result of policy decisions regarding who would be sent to prison and how long they would stay there. People who committed drug and property offenses, many of whom were at low risk to reoffend, represented nearly 60 percent of all prison admissions. Meanwhile, Georgia's prison population had continued to grow, and the length of sentences increased. Judges had few sentencing options aside from prison. The state's probation and parole agencies lacked the authority and capacity to adequately supervise previously incarcerated people in the community or to deliver interventions to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.8

Passing unanimously through both chambers of the General Assembly, HB 1176 was signed into law in May 2012. The final legislation did not include all of the Council's recommendations, though it enacted considerable reform of Georgia's criminal justice system. The codified bill created degrees of burglary and forgery and levels of theft; revised penalties for simple drug possession; allowed courts to order electronic monitoring; enabled probation to impose graduated sanctions; required the use of evidence-based practices and reinvested monies in evidence-based programming; required quality assurance processes and accountability measures; streamlined information transfer; capped sentences to probation detention centers to ensure their effective use; and expanded accountability courts and required the adoption and implementation of a certification process for these courts.9

At the end of 2016, the Georgia prison population was 54,317, a 1.3 percent decrease from 2011. There were 5,236 fewer people in prison (an 8.8 percent decrease) than experts projected for 2016 in the absence of strengthening the justice system. Georgia reported averted costs of $264 million and invested more than $56 million in accountability courts, educational and vocational programs, the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and risk assessment tool development. 12

Through budget initiatives that accompanied HB 1176, the Georgia General Assembly invested $11.6 million of averted corrections expenditures to fund mental health and drug accountability courts; $5.7 million into new residential substance abuse treatment (RSAT) programs; and $175,000 to develop a front-end risk assessment tool.13 In addition, the JRI reforms have nearly eliminated the jail backlog saving the state more than $20 million annually, which has been reinvested in salary increases for correctional officers in an effort to retain staff.14

Related Resources

  • For a full catalog of materials related to the most recent Georgia JRI effort, see the CSG Justice Center's state page.
  • Justice Reinvestment in Georgia: Overview. July 2016. PDF
  • Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. February 2017. PDF
  • Georgia Justice System Performance Indicators Report. PDF
  • Georgia Accountability Courts Program Data Report: April – June 2014. Judicial Council of Georgia, Administrative Office of the Courts, September 2014. PDF
  • Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, January 2014. PDF
  • Report of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, December 2012. PDF
  • 2012 Georgia Public Safety Reform. The Pew Center on the States, 2012. PDF
  • Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment in Georgia. The Pew Center on the States, 2012. PDF
  • The Price of Prisons: Georgia. Vera Institute of Justice and the Pew Center on the States, 2012. PDF
  • Report of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, November 2011. PDF
  • 1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, Georgia. The Pew Center on the States, 2009. PDF
  • Updated May 2017

    Notes

    1 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, 2017, "Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform 2017," Atlanta: Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. PDF
    2 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, 2016, "Report of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform 2016," Atlanta: Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. PDF
    3 Ibid.
    4 Ibid.
    5 Ibid.
    6 S.B. 174, 2017 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2017). PDF
    7 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (2017).
    8 Pew Center on the States, 2012, "2012 Georgia Public Safety Reform: Legislation to Reduce Recidivism and Cut Corrections Costs," Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts. PDF
    9 Information drawn from an unpublished report by the Vera Institute of Justice, April 2015.

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