Conservative states across the South have altered their approach to criminal sentencing in recent years by replacing the tough-on-crime mantra with a “smart on crime” philosophy that supporters say saves money and could even cut repeat offenses, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Georgia legislature this winter will debate a shift in emphasis toward alternatives to prison time for nonviolent offenders, as suggested by a special council appointed last year to study the state's prison population and criminal code.
The effect of its recommendations would be to send fewer people to jail for property and drug crimes and boost alternative punishments. That shift has the backing of Gov. Nathan Deal, who said it is time for Georgia to follow the lead of Texas, South Carolina, and other Southern states and take a more effective approach to punishment. He said Georgia, which now spends more than $1 billion a year on state prisons and has seen its inmate population double in the past 20 years, simply cannot afford to keep the current sentencing regime. While Georgia has some of the toughest criminal penalties in the nation for violent and repeat offenders, almost every convict is spending more time behind bars these days than ever before.