PolitiFact: Sentencing Changes Yield a Financial Boon for Georgia

Post Date: March 18, 2014

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution) — The Great Recession forced many elected officials to rethink their approach to governing in some areas.

In Georgia, it has resulted in a philosophical change that has saved the state millions of dollars, Gov. Nathan Deal recently told one group.

Deal said the changes in criminal sentencing adopted in 2012 have helped Georgia’s bottom line by about $20 million. A PolitiFact Georgia reader saw an article that outlined the claim and asked us to check it out. We wanted to know whether the governor’s numbers were on target. Or should he be sentenced for faulty math?

The governor made the comments at a reception of graduates of the University of Georgia School of Public Affairs in Atlanta. Deal told the group he was surprised by the speed and size of the savings, Morris News Service reported.

“I was amazed at the dollar figures … and amazed at the time frame,” said Deal, a Republican.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said that in 2011 the state paid counties more than $23 million to house state inmates in county jails, some of which were overcrowded.

“In 2013, the payments were slightly under $3.2 million — approximately $20 million less!” Robinson wrote in one email.

In 2012, Deal, a former prosecutor, said Georgia needed more cost-effective criminal justice approaches that didn’t compromise public safety. State lawmakers crafted legislation to establish alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug and property offenders. At the time, 60 percent of Georgia’s inmates were locked up for drug and property crimes, according to a state study.

Many elected officials across the country have employed a similar approach to balance their budgets in the post-recession world. In Georgia, the changes included reduced sentences for relatively minor crimes such as writing bad checks and burglary, and the state is diverting addicts to community supervision and treatment through so-called accountability courts instead of sending them through the normal criminal system and on to prison. Read more