The way Georgia punishes thousands of nonviolent offenders will change when Gov. Nathan Deal signs legislation today as a first step in the governor’s long-term plan to reserve prison beds for the state’s most violent criminals, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Deal also will sign an executive order continuing the work of a special council that studied the state’s prison system and recommended sweeping changes to control unimpeded growth in prison spending.
The reforms in the new law are projected to save taxpayers $264 million over the next five years. Years ago, Georgia was among the states leading the nation in tough-on-crime sentencing laws. Georgia now joins a host of other states — including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina — that have enacted legislation to address soaring prison spending that was doing little to reform offenders. The legislation enjoyed bipartisan support, with the final version being approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. The sentencing reform package, which takes effect July 1, is part of a broader criminal justice initiative pushed by Deal. The legislature also approved the governor’s recommendation to quintuple funding to $10 million for “accountability courts” that require defendants to work, seek treatment and stay sober.