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Jail crisis has been building for years
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Does Georgia have a higher percentage of criminals in its population than any other state? Let’s hope not.
What it does have, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States, is the highest incarceration rate in the country. Whether that means Georgia has more crooks and thugs per capita than any other state, or just that we’re habitually inclined to jail more of them, it’s a dreary statistic.
It’s also an incredibly expensive one. Gov. Nathan Deal pointed out recently that the state pays $3,800 a year for each child in public school, and $18,000 a year for each inmate behind bars. If there’s no exact mathematical illustration of the “pay now or pay later” principle, numbers like those come pretty close.
The problem has been obvious for years and has worsened as the price of get-tough mandatory-sentencing laws enacted in years past has swollen to obscene proportions. The corrections bill now exceeds $1 billion a year, in a state that has been forced to cut deeply into education and social services budgets.
Denial is possible no longer. All three branches of government and both major parties are poised to participate in an overhaul of sentencing laws, in an effort to lower corrections costs, ease jail and prison crowding and offer rehabilitative alternatives for drug addicts and other non-violent offenders.
Under a proposal adopted by the Georgia House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, an 11-member council appointed by Deal, Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, the lieutenant governor and House speaker will study the state’s criminal laws and make recommendations. Then a joint House-Senate bipartisan committee will draft alternative sentencing legislation.
Georgians have paid a prohibitive price for get-tough politics. It’s time to get real.

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