Georgia is in the throes of a potential sentencing revolution.
To get up to speed, read this editorial from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calling on the state's lawmakers to pass Georgia House Bill 1176,
a first-cut blueprint for criminal justice reform. It’s expected to arrive on the House floor this week after some tweaks. The General Assembly should pass this bill this session. Public safety is too important to do otherwise. ... One bonus of justice reform is that finding better ways to steer nonviolent criminals back onto the honest path will free up costly prison space for those most deserving of incarceration. That alone makes it worthwhile to enact reform’s key tenets of:Former federal prosecutor Bob Barr joins in the call for reform with a superb op-ed calling on the state to create a so-called "safety valve" for its mandatory minimum sentencing laws:
● Revamping prison sentences to make the range of punishment better fit the crime.
● Redirecting some of the savings from reducing prison head counts toward bolstering community-based reform programs.
A safety valve allows courts in certain circumstances to sentence a defendant to less prison time than would otherwise be required. This is important because, in some cases, a mandatory minimum prison sentence simply does not fit the crime or the offender.
A good example would be a law targeting major drug dealers that sweeps up first-time, low-level offenders. Some mandatory minimums not only over-punish minor offenders, but taxpayers as well — all of us who are forced to shoulder the burden of paying millions of dollars per year to shelter, feed and care for individuals who would be better off working.
To avoid these problems, several states and the federal government have passed sentencing safety valve laws. The federal provision, which only applies to low-level drug offenders, has been extraordinarily successful. Since 1995, more than 74,000 federal drug offenders facing mandatory minimums have received more appropriate sentences. While they still served prison time, the federal government (and we who fund it) have saved some $28,000 per prisoner for each year shaved off disproportionate sentences. ...
If lawmakers are serious about trying to cut criminal justice spending while maintaining public safety, they should add a safety valve provision to their reform bill.Alas, Georgia's reform bill does not include a safety valve -- yet. Here's hoping they can add one of these cost-saving, justice-producing reform tools to the legislation soon.