Growing up on crime and punishment E-mail
Written by Jose Torres   

If you’ve got a big chunk of change invested in private prisons, news of falling crime rates might not exactly be music to your ears. After all, less crime and fewer prisoners equals smaller returns on investment when it comes to for-profit prisons. But for the old-fashioned county lockup and state prison, it’s not just less crime that’s freeing up a lot of cells and beds, it’s also the result of get-smart criminal justice reforms.

According to a recent article in the Austin American Statesman, recent changes in Georgia laws that lightened the sentences for many non-violent crimes are resulting in empty jail bunks across the state, Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told legislators recently.

When one thinks about Georgia and jails, “soft on crime” isn’t the first thing that springs to mind.

But times change and the reality now is that lawmakers and politicians stand to do better with a smart on crime approach as opposed to “lock’em all up for as long as the law will allow.”

In fact there was barely any objection last year when lawmakers in this traditionally tough-on-crime state voted to relax the sentences for crimes like check forgery and simple burglary.

In addition Georgia lawmakers started local “accountability courts” in which addicts and those suffering from mental illness get intensive supervision and treatment while living at home rather than doing prison time on the tax payer’s dime.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a former judge and prosecutor, was one of the architects of the sentencing reforms and says they’re an easy way to reduce the cost of ever-expanding prisons.

Owens told reporters that Deal’s strategy is clearly working.

Of the 37,000 beds available for inmates in county jails across Georgia, 10,000 of them are vacant, he told a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

“I’ve never seen before a situation where over 10,000 county jail beds are empty,” he said. “Clearly, something is happening in this state.”

But there are two sides to every coin.

One impact of the reforms has been an increase in the proportion of violent inmates in state prisons as the non-violent are given lesser penalties.

Nearly two out of three prisoners are classified as violent today and that number is expected to increase.

That makes corrections officers’ jobs’ that much more dangerous.

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