Gov. Nathan Deal today signed SB 407, criminal justice legislation that reforms misdemeanor bail practices, providing increased flexibility and transparency in this area. SB 407 also provides judges with more opportunities to utilize community service and educational advancement as alternatives to fines or as a condition of probation. The legislation is based on recommendations from the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform and builds upon Deal’s previous criminal justice reform initiatives.
“In the past eight years, Georgia has become the standard-bearer for many pressing areas of our time, but perhaps none more so than criminal justice reform,” said Deal. “For the better part of a decade, we have implemented new reform measures, expanded initiatives of prior years and adjusted our policies where needed to create a criminal justice system that is more efficient and more equitable.
“This legislation focuses on misdemeanor bail reform, which will make Georgia a safer place to call home for all of its citizens by recognizing that mercy and accountability are not mutually exclusive. The revisions within SB 407 require judges to consider the financial circumstances of an accused individual when determining bail, thereby furthering our efforts to incarcerate only the most serious and violent offenders, rather than individuals who simply cannot afford the costs of bail. By also giving judges additional opportunities to assign community service and educational advancement, we are truly rehabilitating non-violent offenders, not hardening them, and further diverting them from dark and dangerous paths.
“I’d like to thank the members of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform for their eight years of hard work in providing these recommendations, the members of the General Assembly for their overwhelming bipartisan support for this cause, and the sponsors of this legislation, Sen. Brian Strickland and Rep. Chuck Efstration, for their steadfast leadership on these issues. I also appreciate the efforts of the agencies tasked with implementing these reforms, the many law enforcement and public safety officers who have effectuated these initiatives, and the judges throughout our state who have readily adopted the sentencing improvements we have made.”
Results of criminal justice reform legislation include:
- At the start of 2011, Georgia’s prisons were operating at 107 percent of capacity, and the state’s incarceration rate was the fourth-highest in the nation, with 1 in 70 adult Georgians behind bars, expected to further increase in the coming years.
- Due to criminal justice reform measures, including the diversion and rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders to accountability courts, our prison population instead declined and our recidivism rate has decreased, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
- Between 2009 and 2017, new overall commitments to Georgia’s prison system dropped 18.6 percent. Last year, annual commitments to state prisons reached the lowest number since 2002.
- In particular, African-Americans have historically been disproportionately represented in Georgia’s prison system. Between 2009 and 2017, commitments of African-American males dropped 29.7 percent and commitments of African-American females declined 38.2 percent. Overall, the number of African-Americans committed to prison in 2017 was at the lowest level since 1987.
- Because of our accountability courts and the emphasis we have placed on rehabilitation measures within our corrections facilities – such as education and jobs-training programs – we are helping those who have made mistakes reclaim their lives and we are making our communities safer. In fact, there was a 24 percent decrease in overall crime between 2008 and 2016.
SB 407 passed the House with a vote of 172-0 and passed the Senate with a vote of 49-2.