Shortening sentences for some nonviolent offenses and creating a statewide network of specialized courts could help avoid spending $250 million on an expanding Georgia prison population, says a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The panel said changes are needed to control the growth in state prison spending, which has doubled over the past two decades to $1.05 billion a year.
The panel said the growth is fueled by drug and property offenders who account for 60 percent of prison admissions. It called for a system of drug, mental health, and veterans’ courts that offer alternatives to incarceration and better supervision of offenders to reduce recidivism. Some cost savings from the reforms can be used to help fund these programs, the report said. Last year, the Journal-Constitution explored the rising cost to Georgia taxpayers of locking up so many criminal offenders, noting the state has the nation’s highest rate of correctional control. One in 13 Georgians is behind bars, on probation or on parole — more than double the national average of 1 in 31.