Pubdate: Fri, 22 Mar 2002
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Author: Ben Holcombe, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


A New Study Indicates That Longer Sentences And Lack Of Prison Alternatives 
Have Left The State Prison System In A Critical Situation.

ALBANY -- The state prison system is just months from a crisis unless the 
state develops more uniform sentencing guidelines and alternatives to 
prison, a new study suggests.

The study - produced by former state senator and corrections commissioner 
Wayne Garner for the state parole board - concludes that Georgia must find 
alternatives to prisons and then help inmates ease back into society so 
they don't resume criminal behavior.

Otherwise, the state will be forced to start building more prisons.

"The state needs to begin looking at some bed space, trying to figure out 
something to do," Garner told an Atlanta newspaper, which obtained a copy 
of the report after an open records request.

"There is no crisis in the state prison system," said Department of 
Corrections spokesman Scott Stallings. "The system is working as well as it 
can at this point."

John Cole Vodicka, executive director of the Americus-based Prison & Jail 
Project, disagrees.

"It's no surprise at all in terms of the dilemma the state's put itself 
in," Vodicka said. "We are in a critical stage. Eventually, something has 
to give."

Vodicka says prison beds need to be reserved for violent offenders who pose 
a serious threat to society.

He thinks the state needs to explore less expensive diversions from prison 
for nonviolent offenders because "too often, prison is a first result."

The study by Garner, who was paid up to $48,000 for his work, found that 
Georgia had the ninth-largest state prison population and the fifth-highest 
rate of incarceration behind Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The report said one in 10 adult Georgians can expect to spend time in 
prison, twice the national average.

For black men, the proportion is 38 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for 
whites. And rural judges are almost a third more likely than urban judges 
to send people to prison.

While Georgia's population increased 78 percent from 1970 to 2000, the 
prison population grew 417 percent, Garner said. In 10 years, the state 
added 20,282 inmates, 6,000 of them in 1999.

Sentences of life without parole and mandatory prison terms put in place in 
1995 are among the major reasons.

"Everybody has voted for all these ... laws to incarcerate everybody," said 
Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, who is chairman of the House State Institutions 
and Property Committee. "Everybody doesn't have to go to prison."

Lucas is an advocate of diverting some criminals into less secure 
facilities that allow them to work and pay part of the cost of their 
detention. He also supports home arrest and electronic monitoring of parolees.

Bob Keller, district attorney in Clayton County and co-chairman of a 
governor's task force creating sentencing guidelines, said hard-line 
sentencing is not necessarily bad.

"One could say we're a more punitive state, or you could say we take a firm 
stand on people who violate the law," Keller said.
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