Georgia to reconsider harsh sentencing (part 1 of 2)

Anyone who has had contact with the criminal justice system has likely seen this common scenario play out. An individual who has a mental health issue or substance abuse problem is convicted of a crime either directly or indirectly related to his underlying issue. The individual is sentenced to some amount of time of incarceration. When he is eventually released, he comes out with even fewer connections to his family and community and no better equipped to deal with his underlying issue than he was when originally convicted.

Without any meaningful rehabilitation, the individual soon finds himself charged with another non-violent offense. As the length of his criminal record grows, so does the length of his sentence. Not only is this an apparent waste of criminal justice resources, but also of the person’s life, a person who may be able to become a contributing member of society if only the cycle could be short-circuited and the person given much-needed treatment. Georgia policy makers will soon consider a proposal to refocus the criminal code to encourage alternative sentences for non-violent offenders.

Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year on state prisons. The inmate population has doubled in the last two decades. Many of these inmates are incarcerated for non-violent drug or property crimes. As you may know, Georgia has some of the strictest penalties of any state for these types of crimes.

In our next installment of this series we will look at some of the specific findings and recommendations of the Special Council that was appointed last year to study the state’s criminal code and resulting inmate population.

Source: The Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Georgia rethinks its prison stance,” Carrie Teegardin and Bill Rankin, Jan. 3, 2011