House Bill 349 frees judges in certain circumstances from having to impose “mandatory minimum” sentences. They’ll now be able to hand down more appropriate sentences in drug cases, for example, where the defendant in question was not the primary suspect or ringleader but previously stood to be punished as if he were.
“Public safety will be improved by giving prosecutors leverage in certain cases and by ensuring that our prison resources are reserved for the ‘kingpins’ while the ‘mules’ are given a chance at reform,” he said.
The governor noted that Georgia, which has the 10th-largest population in the country, also has the fourth-largest prison population. That’s a result of the so-called “war on drugs” and items like the “three strikes and you’re out” law passed in the 1990s that mandated life sentences for those convicted a third time for certain offenses.
Our jails are full, yes — and costly. Keeping someone behind bars costs more than $18,000 per year, and nearly five times that for juvenile offenders.
While most of those in our jails deserve to stay there, there are others who are non-violent and might have been — to coin a phrase — “over sentenced.”
Deal’s bill was introduced in the House by state Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), who said it would offer more productive options, such as drug court and mental-health programs, for nonviolent offenders.
“Gov. Deal’s ‘smart on crime’ vision on the issue of criminal justice reform will result in more state prison beds being occupied by violent criminals while creating more productive options for nonviolent offenders, often drug offenders stuck in the death spiral of addiction,” Golick said.
“Increased judicial discretion will ensure that sentences fit the crime, and local drug courts like the one we have in Cobb will receive more resources and tools to be successful. Gov. Deal’s leadership on this common sense conservative reform was the key ingredient in its success.”
Deal’s bill also creates the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Commission, which will conduct periodic reviews of the juvenile justice system and criminal justice system to help ensure that they are effective.
The justice reform bill will allow judges to consider the facts of a case more closely, rather than just slapping the guilty party with the “mandatory minimum” sentence. And doing so will help save tax dollars.
In short, it will help the state be “smarter on crime.”