Pubdate: Thu, 17 Feb 2011
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Albany Herald Publishing Company, Inc.
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


A 10-member commission has been appointed to review Georgia's tough 
sentencing laws to determine what changes can be made to make 
protecting the public ... well, more affordable.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein, House 
Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Minority Leader 
Stacey Abrams attended a news conference Wednesday, where Deal 
announced the formation of the sentencing reform panel that will look 
into the issue this year and make a recommendation to the General 
Assembly for its 2012 session.

As our friends in Great Britain might say, this task is a bit of a 
sticky wicket.

Georgia elected officials have run hard on the hard-on-crime stance 
for years now. Being accused of being soft on crime has been a death 
sentence for many a political campaign in that span. The results has 
been that more and more people are being locked up for criminal 
activity. The Pew Center on the States has found that about 7.5 
percent of Georgia's population falls into one of three categories -- 
in prison, on probation or on parole. The center reports that as the 
highest rate in the United States,

Just take a look at Dougherty County. Sheriff Kevin Sproul reported 
earlier this month that the jail population in Dougherty hovers in 
the 900-inmate area, with 9,300 inmates booked into the facility in 2010.

While all of those inmates weren't Dougherty residents, the number of 
people who were booked at the jail last year is the equivalent of 
about 9.7 percent of the county's population.

The Georgia Department of Corrections website on Wednesday listed the 
current state prison population at 51,600, which is about one-half of 
1 percent of Georgia's population -- a number that would be higher if 
thousands of inmates weren't being held in county jails because of a 
lack of available beds in the state system. The state system released 
580 inmates in the past 15 days and 282 state prisoners will meet 
their maximum prison sentence time within the next 15 days.

The get-tough laws have done just what they were intended to do -- 
they have resulted in tougher action being taken against convicted 
criminals. That gets them off the streets, to be sure, but it also 
runs up a $1 billion a year bill for the state. That amount would be 
even higher if the state paid counties the actual costs they incur 
for incarcerating inmates who should be in a state facility, but are 
still being housed in county facilities.

It's no real surprise that this has come up. The state, though 
revenues have improved year-over-year for the past several months, is 
still running far behind what state officials feel they need to 
realize in revenues to cover spending. And as in other state, Georgia 
voters have wanted government services, but not the corresponding tax 
bill it takes to provide them.

In the past, Georgia's economy has been robust and growth has kept a 
major dilemma from coming up. But now state officials are in a 
difficult position. Do they find alternative ways to punish and 
rehabilitate non-violent offenders or do they raise taxes?

Ralston pretty well summed up the sentiment that we expect to 
prevail. "For those who would say this is somehow being soft on 
crime, I say it is exercising sensible and responsible leadership," 
Ralston said.

It'll be interesting to see if that pragmatic bipartisan spirit holds 
up in a presidential -- and state legislative -- election year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom