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More on criminal justice reform
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As mentioned last week, one of the key elements to saving state money when it comes to criminal justice is utilizing alternative sentencing options that are more cost-effective and have lower recidivism rates than traditional prison sentences.

The next two weeks we will take a look at some of these alternative sentences, as well as programs already in place at the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Accountability courts
Accountability courts have had a presence in Georgia well before the passage of criminal justice reform, but, with only 33 courts, less than half of the state’s counties were served. An increase in the use of accountability courts is a cornerstone of HB 1176 due to their cost effectiveness and successful outcomes for offenders in Georgia and throughout the country.

Accountability courts, including drug courts and mental health courts, are a post-conviction, intensive, community-based diversion program that gives offenders with substance abuse and mental health problems the treatment they need to reintegrate into society. At $14 a day per offender and a two-year recidivism rate of 7 percent, expansion of this program can have a positive impact on curbing an offender’s rate of reoffending, as well as keeping prison beds for violent offenders.

In the fiscal year 2013 budget, the General Assembly included $10 million in grants to help improve access to accountability courts across the state. In addition to grants, HB 1176 increased the fine for any drug-related offense by 50 percent and required that fee to be used on a county’s drug court or community-based sentencing alternatives. HB 1176 also called for uniform standards for accountability courts that must be approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts to ensure that all courts receiving state funds are employing the best strategies to lower recidivism rates.

Probation is the most common sentence issued in Georgia, with 49,251 offenders starting probation in FY13. Before criminal justice reform was enacted, Georgia had an average probation length of over seven years, almost twice the national average. HB 1176 created shorter probation terms and  gives judges more options in punishing probationers who break the terms of their probation, known as “graduated sanctions.”

Previously, any offender on probation who broke a single term of his/her sentence was immediately sent to prison, no matter the scope of the term that was broken. Now, judges have discretion to use lesser punishments on these offenders. Those who successfully complete probation have had an average three year recidivism rate of approximately 17 percent from FY01-FY10 compared to a rate of almost 30 percent for all other prisoners. The daily cost of a standard probationer in FY12 $1.27 and $4.30  for specialized probation, making it the cheapest sentencing option and one of the most effective at keeping offenders from returning to the GDC system.

Day reporting centers (DRCs)
Day reporting centers are non-residential intensive treatment programs focused on high-risk inmates whose primary problem is substance abuse. The program typically lasts six to eight months and consists of counseling with a six-month aftercare program based on programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. The program is organized into three phases, with the first being focused on substance abuse treatment, and the second and third adding education and reentry preparedness.

The state also recently created the DRC Lite program which is designed to provide DRC services in more rural and less-populated areas of the state. DRCs are not only cost-effective at $16.33 per probationer in FY2012; DRC participants also are 24 percent less likely to recidivate according to a 2010 study.

Next week: Department of Corrections options.

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