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Buzz from the Gold Dome: By Sen. Grant | Community Spirit

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Buzz from the Gold Dome: By Sen. Grant

Written by Senator Johnny Grant, submitted by the Senate Press Office

Each year, the legislature is visited by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who delivers an update on Georgia’s judiciary. Chief Justice Carol Hunstein comments on the accomplishments, challenges, and plans for the future of the Judiciary.

It’s an enlightening speech about our courts and correction efforts.

Chief Justice Hunstein explained that Georgia leaders must seriously examine how criminal offenders are sentenced. We are operating at 106 percent of prison capacity. Many inmates are not as great a threat to society as they are to themselves. She said that instead of incarcerating drug addicts and mentally ill offenders, we must keep prison space reserved for the most dangerous and violent criminals and those who commit crimes against children.

We recognize that affording the more than $1 billion it costs annually to operate our prisons, parole and probation systems is a great stress to our already floundering budget numbers. Chief Justice Hunstein said Georgia has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation and one of every 13 Georgians is behind bars or on probation or parole. These are staggering figures that must be addressed.

I have met with Rep. Jay Neal, the Department of Corrections, the State Board of Pardon and Paroles and many others to discuss what could be done in Georgia to address this issue.

We are looking at alternatives to incarceration for certain offenders. Hunstein explained that Georgia’s judges need more discretion in the courtroom to ensure effective sentencing. She gave the example of sending a young man to prison for a non-violent crime who may emerge years later with no education, a prison record and little chance of getting a job. Incarceration was probably not the best sentence for him.

 As a result of these talks, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that establishes the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgia. The council will seek out new and innovative ways to make Georgia safer while reducing costs. We must work to increase accountability and rehabilitation, while reducing recidivism rates and crime in the streets.

Changing how we handle offenders with a mental illness or drug or alcohol addictions is a necessity if we intend to reduce recidivism and incarceration rates. Specialty courts, like the mental health courts in the legislation I introduced, are an excellent mechanism to accomplish this. Hunstein made it clear that these are not “feel-good, soft-on-crime alternatives to prison.” They actually keep the public safer by reducing repeat offenders through treatment options for non-violent offenders and increased accountability.


Chief Justice Hunstein shared that a recent report by the Georgia Department of Audits found that drug courts in Georgia have resulted in lower sentencing costs and lower recidivism rates. The report found that drug courts cost up to 80 percent less than the average daily cost of other traditional sentencing options. They are effective tools to reduce crime and protect the public. Hunstein mentioned that after two years, only 7 percent of drug court participants re-offended, compared to the 29 percent who reoffended after receiving a traditional sentence of time in prison.

This week in the General Assembly, we celebrated Milledgeville Night and Rural Health Day. Milledgeville Night is an opportunity to highlight the wonderful culture and people of Milledgeville so the legislators can learn more about this great part of Georgia. We were joined by Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and Mrs. Hudgens, Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey and Mrs. Cummiskey and many others. I am grateful that we had so many state leaders at the event.

Rural Health Day recognizes the Georgia Rural Health Association, which advocates for health care consumers and professionals outside of metropolitan areas. The day is meant to draw awareness to the fact that every day health care challenges are magnified in rural areas.

If you have any questions about sentencing reform, the State of the Judiciary or the special events of the week, please don’t hesitate to contact me

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