by Georgia Center for Opportunity | Feb 12, 2015
The Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CJRC) released their latest report this past Friday (Feb. 6th) with recommendations aimed to increase public safety, hold offenders accountable, and reduce recidivism in our state. This is the fourth consecutive report that the CJRC has produced since 2011 after being tasked by the Governor and the General Assembly to develop a smarter, evidence-based approach to criminal justice in our state.
As reflected in the report, a major focus of the CJRC and the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry (GOTSR) in 2014 was to develop a comprehensive approach to reentry so that every person leaving prison has the tools and support they need to succeed in the community.
To aid in the development of this approach, the Council and GOTSR partnered with the Michigan-based Center for Justice Innovation and reentry expert Dennis Schrantz to produce the Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative (GA-PRI). The GA-PRI is a five-year plan based largely on the evidence-based policies practices laid out in the 2005 Council of State Governments’ Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council and the 2008 National Institute of Corrections’ Transition from Prison to the Community (TPC) Reentry Handbook, but tailored specifically to meet Georgia’s reentry needs.
Georgia’s reentry team pursued federal funding to implement the GA-PRI in 2014, highlighting its “one strategy, one plan” philosophy that aims to unify planning and implementation of evidence-based practices among agencies and stakeholders. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) welcomed the smart plan and awarded Georgia four grants which totaled $6 million. Georgia’s strategy is now being featured by the BJA at training events across the county.
Details and recommendations related to the GA-PRI can be viewed in this report, as well as the complete three-year implementation plan which is located in the addendum.
Other key pieces of the report include recommendations in the following areas:
- Restore the intent of the Georgia’s First Offender Act
- Improve pre-trial diversion alternatives for certain offenders
- Extend parole eligibility for certain qualified nonviolent, recidivist drug offenders
- Extend sentences for offenders whose probation has been revoked and who wish to participate in a felony accountability court program
Juvenile Justice System
- Improve the collecting and sharing of electronic data throughout the juvenile justice system
Misdemeanor Probation System
- Address deficiencies and improve transparency and fairness in misdemeanor probation services
At GCO, we are particularly happy to see the following recommendations in the CJRC’s report which aim to increase employment opportunities for returning citizens:
- Establish licensing policies that ensure returning citizens have appropriate opportunities for licensing
- Explore opportunities for a state work opportunity tax credit to incentivize offering employment to returning citizens
- Revamp prison work details to provide experience that meets the requirements of Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) so technical college credits can be awarded for work experience gained on prison details
- Explore resources available to purchase and deploy a Department of Driver Services (DDS) mobile unit to process state IDs at state correctional facilities
Read the full report here and visit the newly created website for the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.
by Eric Cochling | Jan 17, 2014
Below is the first edition of our Capitol Update newsletter for 2014. If you’d like to receive future editions in your inbox, sign up here.
2014 Session Begins
By: Eric Cochling, VP of Public Policy
Georgia Center for Opportunity
Welcome to the first edition of our Capitol Update for 2014. As we have done for several years, we will be sending out regular updates to let you know what’s happening under the gold dome (good, bad or otherwise) during the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Should you have any questions or comments about the content of these updates, please email Eric Cochling.
New Year, Election Near
The 152nd session of the Georgia General Assembly started on Monday. Since this is an election year, the session promises to be a short one as members of the Assembly look to campaign and raise money, things they cannot legally do while in session.
If this week has been any indication, activity will be fast and furious until the end of session, which is expected to end in mid-March this year. It doesn’t help the sense of urgency that the state is on the verge of moving our primary election from July to May. Legislation moving the primary election made its way through both houses of the General Assembly this week and is now on the way to the Governor for his signature.
With the elections looming and based on conversations we have had with lawmakers, we also expect the legislature to steer clear of politically divisive legislation. That said, “politically divisive” is in the eye of the beholder and you can never be certain what bills will generate controversy. It is safe to say that all legislators hope to leave this session, in particular, having made as few of their constituents mad as possible.
Legislation, Study Committees, and Rumors to Watch
– Education –
This week, Governor Deal proposed a $42.3 billion budget – more than half of which is coming from the federal government!! – that includes $547 million in additional funding for Georgia’s public school system to fund teacher pay increases and adding back days to the school calendar.
In other news, House Resolution 486, sponsored by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) would amend the Georgia Constitution to allow municipalities created in 2005 or later (and contiguous municipalities) to form city school systems.
In the category of “Finally!,” Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) says that he is planning to introduce legislation to address some of the problems created by Georgia’s zero-tolerance law relative to weapons on school property. It would be great if accidentally leaving a pocket knife in your car didn’t result in a criminal record.
– Criminal Justice Reform –
Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Council released its third set of recommendations in three years on January 10th, this time focusing on reforming aspects of prisoner reentry. GCO testified before the council in November and we are happy to see that many of the recommendations from our Prisoner Reentry Working Group were included in the council’s report.
The council’s official recommendations include the following:
- Each prisoner should have a Transition Accountability Plan initiated at the time they enter prison and consistently used during incarceration that will determine the best path to successful reentry;
- State corrections agencies should work more closely with private agencies and returning citizens to locate and secure sustainable, safe, and affordable housing;
- The food stamp ban on offenders convicted of a drug-related felony should be lifted, provided that they maintain a certificate of program completion issued by the Department of Corrections showing that they are in good standing and in compliance;
- Judges should be allowed to modify driver’s license restrictions for those convicted of minor drug offenses not involving a vehicle so that they are able to operate a vehicle;
- In hiring for state employment, job candidates should not be asked about criminal history until the interview stage.
- Negligent hiring liability protection should be provided for companies willing to hire ex-offenders under certain conditions.
It is very likely that we will see these recommendations included in a criminal justice reform bill this session. We will keep you posted.
– Marriage and Family –
It’s difficult to deny the harm that no-fault divorce causes to children. It’s also difficult to know exactly what needs to be done to help protect kids from unecessary divorce. House Bill 684, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), offers at least part of the answer.
This legislation would only affect couples with minor children, where the grounds for divorce are irreconcilable differences (no-fault). In those cases, the legislation would require divorcing parents to take an eight-hour course that explains how divorce will impact everyone involved, especially the children. It would also require a “discernment period” of 320 days before a court could grant the divorce. The waiting period could be waived in cases involving abuse, neglect, or abandonment and, importantly, the existence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment could be proven to a judge outside of the public eye and public record.
The thinking is that during the discernment period, tensions could cool and the couple could experience life apart – before making it permanent – so that they could see how their divorce would impact their children over the course of the year (including birthdays, holidays, etc.). While not a silver bullet to solve the marriage and divorce crisis in the country, this is certainly a good way to encourage couples with children to stay together.
Visit Allies for Family Life and look for “Children’s Hope for Family Act” for more information.
– Child Welfare –
According to this report, it appears that Georgia is moving quickly to obtain a federal waiver that would allow the state more flexibility in how it spends federal foster care dollars. Governor Deal has indicated that the new flexibility would be used to create new public/private partnerships that would allow private agencies to take a lead role in providing foster care and other child protection services. The Casey Family Foundation has praised the use of waivers and privatization in other states where it has been a success and called for extending the availability of waivers to the states beyond this year.
Our team continues to serve on the Governor’s Office of Children and Families CSEC Task Force, which is making real strides in raising awareness of child sex trafficking in Georgia and finding effective ways to rescue and serve victims, while reducing demand. The subgroup on which we serve recently developed a certification program for businesses that commit to fighting child sex trafficking called Champions for Safe Children. We are now in the process of delivering trainings for interested companies around the metro area. Next up: developing similar certification programs for cities and neighborhoods.
Please join us for our 4th annual School Choice Celebration & Rally on Tuesday, January 28th, from noon to 2pm at the Georgia State Capitol. Our special guest will be Keshia Knight Pulliam (Cosby Show and House of Payne). Registration is encouraged.
The General Assembly has been around a while and like any old institution it has developed its own language. James Salzer at the AJC put this glossary together to help us outsiders keep track of what’s happening.
Thanks to Jamie Lord, our director of government affairs, and Jacob Stubbs, our legislative intern and John Jay Fellowship alumnus for their able contributions to this update.
by Georgia Center for Opportunity | Dec 3, 2013
The Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform invited organizations from across the state to present recommendations for improving ex-offender outcomes at the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Forsyth, Georgia, Tuesday, November 26.
Eric Cochling, VP of Policy Advancement for Georgia Center for Opportunity, testified before the council with proposals generated from GCO’s Prisoner Reentry Working Group on ways to improve employment opportunities for Georgia’s ex-offenders.
- Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Eric Cochling testifying before the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council.
He outlined the following five recommendations for the state to consider implementing:
- Lift driver’s license suspensions for drug offenders who have not committed a driving-related crime.
- Ensure offender’s identification is secured prior to release so they will be ready to apply for a job upon leaving prison.
- Incentivize employers to hire ex-offenders through offering tax credits or deductions, a bonding program, and protection from liability.
- Increase ex-offenders’ chances of being hired by postponing questions about criminal convictions until after an interview has been conducted, with the state setting the example by implementing this recommendation for public employment first.
- Lift professional licensing restrictions to allow ex-offenders to work in occupations that were previously off-limits to them because of a felony conviction that is unrelated to the professional license being sought.
Testifying before the Governor’s Council proved to be a critical first step in presenting GCO’s working group findings to state leaders, as the council consists of legislative, judicial, and executive appointees, as well as representatives from various sectors of criminal justice at the state and local level.
Established by the Governor in 2011 to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable while controlling state costs, the council has proposed significant reforms for adult sentencing and corrections and juvenile justice. Due to the success of the council’s recommendations and landmark legislation being passed during the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, Governor Deal commissioned the council to focus on improving prisoner reentry in the state next year, too.
For the upcoming 2014 legislative session, the council is working diligently to compile the best recommendations for the state to implement to reduce recidivism. However, due to the scope of this assignment, bills outlining the council’s recommendations may be introduced over the next couple of sessions.
Eric’s presentation received a positive response from council members leading them to ask several follow-up questions about other states that have enacted similar reforms. GCO is grateful for the opportunity to present and hopes that the council seriously considers our recommendations.
The recommendations for increasing employment opportunities for ex-offenders represent a sample of the reforms being proposed by GCO’s working group. Future recommendations will likely include ways to reduce debt and increase savings for prisoners, establish reentry courts, and implement specialized transitional centers across the state, among others.