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Exploring options for criminal justice

POSTED: December 9, 2013 5:18 p.m.

This week we will focus on the residential programs operated by the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) as well as projections on the impact of HB 1176 for the state of Georgia.


State prisons/private prisons
GDC operates 30 state prisons, two of which are exclusively for women. The state also contracts with private companies to run four private prisons.


Imprisonment is still the second-most used sentencing option behind probation. State and private prison beds are generally reserved for more serious or repeat offenders. During FY2013, state prisons were at 107 percent utilization with an average daily population of 38,967 and private prisons presently are at 99 percent, with an average daily population of 7,915.


One of the concerns of criminal justice reform is that with a higher ratio of violent inmates, state prisons have become even more dangerous. The daily cost per inmate in state prison was $44.51 in FY2012 and the three-year recidivism rate has fluctuated from 26 to 29 percent from FY2001-FY2010, making inmates housed in prisons the most expensive for GDC, as well as the most likely to return to prison after their release.


County jails have held from 2,000-3,000 state inmates awaiting pickup from time to time over the years, but GDC has worked to reduce that number and on Nov. 29, there were only 251 state prisoners in county jails.


Residential substance abuse centers (RSATs)
RSATs are programs targeted at high-risk or repeat offenders with histories of substance abuse problems. RSATs combine intensive substance abuse therapy and group therapy to help inmates combat their substance abuse issues and successfully return to society.

The six-month program includes work details as well as intensive therapy with the goal of providing the necessary skills to become productive law-abiding citizens upon their release. GDC also offers similar services for offenders who are serving a probation sentence, as well as two integrated treatment facilities, which are used for inmates who have history of both substance abuse and mental health problems.


Probation detention centers (PDCs)
Probation detention centers are a sentencing alternative used for inmates with short sentence times or those who have violated the terms of their probation. The average stay in a PDC is only 60-66 days. These facilities are low-security, but maintain a strict routine including mandatory work on an off-site work detail five days per week.


Approximately 75 percent of inmates sentenced to PDCs committed substance abuse crimes. Probation detention centers average a three-year recidivism rate for FY01-10 was almost 26 percent, which is about 2 percent better than the state’s prison rate. The daily cost per offender in FY12 was $42.43, which is comparable to the daily rate for state prisoners; however, the average length of stay in a PDC is only 60-66 days. GDC currently operates eight male PDCs and one female PDC.


Transitional centers
Transitional centers are for inmates who have served a long sentence and are preparing to be released. The inmates receive substance abuse treatment as well as vocational and educational programs to facilitate their return to the community as a productive citizen. Only offenders selected by the prison they are housed in or the State Board of Pardon and Paroles can serve time in transitional centers. The selection is based upon a variety of factors including criminal history and good behavior. Inmates in transitional centers have relaxed security and are taught how to manage money, search for employment, and other skills needed for successful reentry.  Substance abuse therapy is also provided for inmates who are at risk for falling back into a pattern of substance abuse. Inmates who serve time in transitional centers have a 19.5 percent recidivism rate, almost 10 percent better than state prisoners who do not participate in transitional centers.


Saving state money
While the purpose of criminal justice reform is to create a more efficient and effective justice system, it is also a way to save Georgia money. Before the passage of HB 1176, the PEW Center on the States projected $264 million would be needed in additional expenditures expanding prison capacity to meet prison growth in addition to the $1.1 billion the state already spends on Corrections. But, with HB 1176 in place, the state is projected to reduce the prison population by 5,000 beds over the next five years.


Additionally, alternative sentences such as probation and accountability courts are much cheaper sentencing options, as well as more effective at reducing recidivism than state prisons for low-risk offenders.


The methods GDC employs to both enforce punishment for crimes with a longer focus on preventing and rehabilitating the state’s criminals are changing. Many of GDC’s programs are now designed to treat offenders at the source of the problem, and ensure that when they return to society they have the chance to do so as a productive citizen.


I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7094 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free at
1-800-367-3334 day or night

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