House Bill 1176 was introduced this week, marking several potentially progressive changes to the Georgia criminal justice system. Keeping in line with what Gov. Deal said was important in his state of the state address, lawmakers are hoping to reduce some prison terms, and divert some offenders into treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
The lead sponsor of the bill Rep. Rick Golick (R-Smyrna) says the bill is a “significant first step in bringing conservative common sense to our criminal justice system.”
And although the bill makes some fairly significant changes, Deal isn’t completely convinced that the changes will save the state any money. Also, he says the bill doesn’t include many of the recommended changes from his Criminal Justice Reform Council.
According to the AJC, the changes proposed in HB 1176 include:
- Raising the level at which a bad check crime becomes a felony, from the current level of $500 to $1,000.
- Raising the level at which a shoplifting crime becomes a felony, from $300 to $1,000.
- Creating new classifications under drug possession charges, based on the amount of drugs that were found in the defendant’s possession.
- Allowing people being supervised on probation and parole to earn more lenient supervision after successfully following a “self-improvement plan.”
- Creating three different classifications of burglary.
In addition, the bill would allow judges to divert low risk drug offenders to treatment instead of prison.
Among those things not included in the bill but recommended by the special council is the ability for judges to depart from some mandatory minimums in drug trafficking cases and the elimination of some traffic crimes.
Though Gov. Deal would like to see these things included in the package, many believe this is a good start.
Sara Totonchi, of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta calls the bill a “timely opportunity to bring innovation and reform into our criminal justice system.” She goes on to add, “I am hopeful that we will see in Georgia the same improvements in public safety and reduction of recidivism that have been seen in other states that implemented similar reforms.”
Several states have changed their approach over the last few years—leaning towards rehabilitative measures and community supervision whenever possible. Not only are these options cheaper than incarceration, offenders who are given opportunities like these are less likely to reoffend.
The bill will now go to a committee of both the House and Senate before being placed for a vote.
Even before this particular bill passes, however, there are many incarceration alternatives available. Depending on the charge you are facing and the jurisdiction in which you are charged, you could qualify for such programs.
Contact our offices today to discuss your options and how we might be able to help.