Georgia’s new corrections commissioner, James Donald, was appointed seven months ago with a mandate to stem the growth of the state’s inmate population and reduce the massive cost to taxpayers–$900 million a year. More than 48,000 convicted felons are imprisoned in Georgia, and the number of people locked up has more than doubled since 1993, caused by tougher sentencing laws and stricter parole policies.
Donald says inmates fit into two categories. There are violent and repeat offenders who should serve hard time, and there are nonviolent offenders who need education, job skills and substance abuse counseling. Donald is proposing alternatives to traditional prison for the second category of offenders. But he is beginning to encounter resistance from a public eager to punish criminals severely and state legislators reluctant to spend scarce dollars on rehabilitation. He says he aims to “educate people” so they understand the need for reform.