Pubdate: Sat, 20 Nov 2010
Source: Savannah Morning News (GA)
Copyright: 2010 Savannah Morning News
Author: Mark Levin
Note: Marc A. Levin is the director of the Center for Effective 
Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He wrote this for the 
Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Gov.-elect Nathan Deal has earned his stripes as a tough-as-nails 
prosecutor. At the same time, prosecutors in Georgia and around the 
nation also see up close the many low-level, nonviolent offenders who 
cycle through the system.

In Texas, which is known for its law and order approach, one impetus 
for successful reforms was prosecutors and judges who told lawmakers 
they were reluctantly sending low-level, nonviolent offenders to 
prisons who were not a danger and could succeed in a community 
corrections program.

Their problem was that few alternatives to hold them accountable were 

As Georgia's leaders confront a budget shortfall, they can learn much 
from the approach Texas has taken. Since Texas strengthened 
community-based supervision, sanctions and treatment options for 
nonviolent offenders in 2005 rather than build new prisons, the state 
has avoided more than $2 billion in prison costs.

Most importantly, Texas has realized a 9 percent reduction in crime. 
In fact, the Texas crime rate in 2009 is at its lowest point since 1973.

Georgia is ripe for reform. In Georgia, about one adult in 13 is 
under correctional control, either on probation or parole, or behind 
bars. This is the highest rate in the nation.

The national average is one in 31. About one adult in 70 is behind 
bars in Georgia. The state spends more than $1 billion per year on 
housing approximately 60,000 inmates.

Corrections costs have grown fivefold since 1985. Longer sentences 
have driven Georgia's prison growth. For instance, the average inmate 
released in 2009 on a drug possession charge spent 21 months locked 
up, compared with 10 months in 1990. Georgia has 8,969 inmates 
sentenced for a drug offense, which costs taxpayers $151 million per year.

Support is growing for ways to achieve a greater reduction in the 
crimes that most harm the public for every dollar spent. Georgia 
House Speaker David Ralston said, "I think the dialogue has already started."

Fortunately, there are many solutions that have worked. In fact, 
there is room to expand upon some of the community-based approaches 
that are already working in Georgia, such as drug courts and day 
reporting centers.

Georgia has 28 drug courts, where nonviolent offenders with a 
substance abuse problem are held directly accountable on an ongoing 
basis by a judge and required to attend treatment. The state's drug 
courts have a 12 percent recidivism rate, but they were cut in 2008 
at the same time the prison system received more money. At the 
state's 11 day reporting centers which state data indicate are 
reducing recidivism, offenders are required to learn a trade, work 
and attend treatment if needed.

Other solutions include improving parole supervision, such as the 
recent adoption in Texas of instant drug testing with immediate 
referrals to treatment and greater use of graduated sanctions and 
incentives to keep parolees in line, rather than let violations pile 
up that result in revocation to prison. In 2009, Texas also 
recognized that a job is often the best recidivism-reduction program 
and enacted legislation enabling most ex-offenders to obtain 
provisional occupational licenses in many occupations.

As Georgia's next leaders take office pledging to enact reforms that 
promote more accountability and smaller government, the criminal 
justice system is an ideal place to begin making corrections.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake