Georgia comes in 2nd for Jail Incarceration Rates

When considering the number of residents in jail per 100,000 people in a state, New Mexico and Georgia are at the top of the list.

The Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based justice reform group, released its most recent study on Wednesday and the results were quite compelling for the Peach State. Whiel New Mexico had a jail incarceration rate of 340.8 per 100,000 residents four years ago, Georgia followed with the second highest rate of 317.3 per 100,000 residents.

The results were based on the number of people held in local jails in 2013, which have declined from their all-time high in the mid-1990s. Georgia’s prison incarceration rates, however, remain near their highest.

Continue reading “Georgia comes in 2nd for Jail Incarceration Rates”

Senate Judiciary hears Marsy’s Law Again

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Marsy’s Law which would place crime victims’ rights into the constitutions of states that haven’t done so. Georgia is one of 15 states that has yet to do this with North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana passing the law overwhelmingly in November. State Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) sponsored the bill with 20 co-sponsors to include President Pro tem David Shafer, Sen. Jeff Mullis, Sen. William Ligon, Sen. John Albers, and Sen. Nan Orrock. The legislation would add seven new rights to the Georgia Constitution in regards to crime victims and their ability and right to be heard during court proceedings involving their perpetrator, alleged or convicted. And while Georgia currently boasts a Victim’s Bill of Rights, Senator Kennedy’s Senate Resolution 146 would place the language in the Georgia Constitution, giving teeth to laws that Marsy’s Law advocates have testified to not existing.

Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to be heard in court, the right to notifications of judicial proceedings, parole hearings, change of custody status, etc. And while it may seem obvious that these things are in place, a spokesperson for Marsy’s Law says that, in fact, they are not. “One mother’s son was murdered, the killer let out of prison and she was never notified. She found out on social media and had to work for weeks to convince the powers that be that he had been wrongfully released before his term was up,” says the spokesperson. “Another mom’s daughter was killed by a distracted driver. She was never notified of court proceedings and the driver never served time; her daughter wasn’t even mentioned in the court transcript. Another is a mom whose young daughters were molested and she can’t get answers for why the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested despite physical evidence.”

Directly after the testimony of the victims on Tuesday, Gwinnett DA Danny Porter and Prosecuting Attorneys Council director Chuck Spahos testified stating they have yet to hear a case where a victim needed constitutional rights because these rights are already in statute. 

DA Danny Porter Testimony

However, testimony shows there are problems in some places and when a victims’ rights aren’t carried out, the victim currently has no standing. Julie Allison, a victim advocate from Columbus who goes to the parole board every year to make sure her father’s killer isn’t released, testified that when she’s working on behalf of new victims, she’s often told their rights aren’t really enforceable.

Julie Allison-The Case for Marsy’s Law

Advocates for Marsy’s Law have been working with Prosecutors to reach an agreement on this legislation for over a year. Hours before Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors offered up revised language. The prosecutors argued that if Marsy’s Law was placed into the constitution, it would prevent advocates from strengthening victims’ rights in the future. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) pointed out that putting it in the constitution does no such thing noting the 2nd Amendment doesn’t prevent Congress from having laws about gun rights.

Thirty-five states have amended their constitutions to reflect Marsy’s Law. Amending the Georgia constitution would give teeth to the laws here at home that require victim notification, not just in general, but in a timely manner. Marsy’s Law being placed in the Georgia Constitution would ensure that victims are notified of court hearings, that they have right to provide input to prosecutors before pleas are made, the right to be heard and the right to restitution.

The law-abiding constituents of Georgia deserve the same rights as victims as are afforded to the criminals in our system. And at the very least, they deserve the right to have the measure put on the ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting today at 4pm with Marsy’s Law on the agenda once again.

Conservative group kicks off 2017 plan for death penalty reform

As Georgia has made great strides with Governor Deal’s justice reform policies, there’s one place (well, maybe a few) that we’re still falling short.

The death penalty.

Georgia led the nation in executions in 2016 putting nine men to death by a lethal injection. Death penalty advocates say the increase is due to a back log after a brief moratorium, but Georgia is among the states that drew attention in 2015 over execution drug choice.

But a group focused on using conservative principles to advocate for death penalty reform is looking to raise awareness about the flaws in the system. Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty will hold a press conference this Thursday at the state Capitol.

Continue reading “Conservative group kicks off 2017 plan for death penalty reform”

Opportunity School District: Demand More

This week’s Courier Herald column:

A funny thing happened on the way to way to passing a constitutional amendment to fix Georgia’s failing schools. The NEA – the largest national teachers’ union – decided to send several million dollars to Georgia to kill the measure via a group called “Keep Georgia Schools Local”. Don’t let the irony be lost on you that a national union suddenly is appealing to local control. Also, don’t expect this position to last beyond November 8th.

Amendment One is one of the last remaining pieces of Governor Deal’s education reforms left to be implemented. A statewide charter school system was established by amendment in 2012. One and a half billion dollars have been added to education spending at the state level in the last four years. The Opportunity School District authorization and reform of Georgia’s Quality Basic Education funding formula are the two major remaining items.

And yet, if you listen to the opposition, Governor Deal has been starving the education establishment of it’s only stated goal: More. Continue reading “Opportunity School District: Demand More”

Buddy Carter and Congressional Republicans Protest Private Prison Closure in South Georgia

Representative Buddy Carter was joined by many of Georgia’s congressional Republicans in deriding the Bureau of Prisons’ decision to shut down a private prison in Folkston. Carter, Senator David Perdue and Representatives Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Austin Scott, Doug Collins, Jody Hice, and Rick Allen all criticized the BOP and the Department of Justice for rescinding the contract for the D. Ray James Correctional Facility held by The Geo Group, a Florida-based company that manages private prisons. The contract was supposed to last until 2018.

Here is an excerpt from the letter that Carter and the Georgia Republicans wrote to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about the contract termination: Continue reading “Buddy Carter and Congressional Republicans Protest Private Prison Closure in South Georgia”

Raises And Thanks For Georgia’s Law Enforcement Officers

This week’s Courier Herald column:

We’ve now clocked the fifteenth anniversary of September 11th. As is typical – and well deserved – we couple this remembrance of when terrorists killed over 3,000 on American soil with a recognition of the first responders that ran toward the danger rather than away from it.

As a country, we have historically been pretty good at public acknowledgement and thanks of those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. The reality of how we support them often differs substantially.

During the last year or so, the calculus has changed significantly. Protests of police officers have led to a very public questioning of the role between those who wear a badge to protect and those they serve. Some incidents have gone well beyond protest. Dallas and Baton Rouge have seen incidents where multiple officers were assassinated in an ambush style attack.

Officer Tim Smith of the Eastman Georgia Police Department added a local face to the heightened risks faced in an environment of heightened tensions. He was ambushed and killed in the early morning hours of July 8th while responding to a call about a suspicious person. Continue reading “Raises And Thanks For Georgia’s Law Enforcement Officers”

Criminal Record Blocks Candidacy For Sheriff, But Not House

The Albany Herald takes a look at a House Race in SW Georgia…and finds an interesting series of events as to how Democrats picked an independent to challenge the Republican with the longest record of service to the House of Representatives.  The original Democratic challenger, James “I’m not Griftdrift” Williams, lost a post-qualifying challenge based on residency.  Meanwhile, former Arlington City Council member and pastor Kenneth Zachary Jr was removed from the Democratic ballot in a race against the sheriff of Calhoun County on the grounds of “moral turpitude”.

State law prohibits anyone with convictions on crimes of moral turpitude from serving as Sheriff. Per the Herald:

But court documents obtained by The Herald show that Zachary, at age 34, pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct in 2004. He was indicted by a Dougherty County Grand Jury in May 2004 on a charge of terroristic threats in connection to an incident in which he was accused of throwing eggs at a car, acting “in disregard of the risk of causing such terror and inconvenience” in the incident that involved a woman and two small children, ages 4 and 6. The charge was reduced to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

The Herald also obtained documents showing that Zachary, when he was in his 20s, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of writing bad checks and pleaded no-contest to theft by conversion ($644.85 in used clothing and equipment taken from the Georgia National Guard).

State law prohibits those with felony convictions from serving in the legislature for ten years. 2004 is 12 years ago, so legally Zachary is ok to serve. He petitioned to get on the ballot with the required number of signatures, and is running as an independent with support from the State Democratic party. Continue reading “Criminal Record Blocks Candidacy For Sheriff, But Not House”

Senator Perdue misses mark on justice reform…again

Following the recent announcement of reduced prison sentences for 214 convicted felons by President Barack Obama, junior Senator David Perdue issued a statement condemning the action.

All of the inmates affected by the clemency are serving time in federal correctional facilities and a large majority of the inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses that fell under dated mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.

Perdue claims that “approximately one in four” of those who saw a reduced sentence are serving time for “criminal gun charges,” however, as with many mandatory minimum sentencing statutes on the federal level, mere possession of a firearm during the commission of a high and aggravated drug offense often meant additional firearm-related charges. In many cases, a firearm was not used as part of the crime that landed a person in jail.

Despite that fact, Senator Perdue issued the following statement which, in my personal opinion, is extremely reckless: Continue reading “Senator Perdue misses mark on justice reform…again”

In a Panel Discussion, Governor Deal Highlights Criminal Justice Reform Efforts

Governor Nathan Deal had the opportunity to showcase his efforts to reform the criminal justice system in Georgia at a Republican National Convention panel discussion between him and Republican Governors Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Matt Bevin of Kentucky.

After becoming governor in 2011, Governor Deal has pushed for reform during each legislative session, with efforts focused on accountability court expansion, juvenile justice reform, prisoner reentry initiatives and the creation of the Department of Community Supervision. The reform efforts have saved the state money, and have reduced the number of prison beds needed.

“Crime in many parts of the country, including Georgia, is generational,” said Deal. “If you break the cycle and show individuals that there is a different way, then you not only save money and lives in the short term, but you also create generational changes. If you can show these offenders that success after incarceration is possible, it will help keep them from becoming repeat offenders.”

The criminal justice reform efforts in the three states are illustrated in a video entitled Changing Laws, Changing Lives. View it below the fold.
Continue reading “In a Panel Discussion, Governor Deal Highlights Criminal Justice Reform Efforts”

Partisanship is failing taxpayers on justice reform

They say if you’re not a liberal at 25, you have no heart and if you’re not a conservative at 35, you have no brain. I think I’ve actually mixed those two up, judging by how ‘soft’ I’ve become with regard to the corrections system in America. When it comes to justice reform, I’m a hard moderate who can find flaws in almost everything we have in practice. But I haven’t always been this way. I used to be a lock-em-up, throw away the key, anti-drug, pro-death penalty Republican. I just had no reasonable explanation for that ideology.

Over the few past years, I’ve worked for a criminal defense attorney, run a district attorney’s race, and had a friend who was wrongfully convicted of heinous crimes. I’ve seen judicial discretion usurped by higher-ups while prosecutors and police sometimes work too closely. I’ve seen the system fail from many different viewpoints.

More recently, the failures and my political ideologies have piqued my interest in the Georgia Department of Corrections, legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly, and the advocacy of organizations on the national level. I wish there was more to see out of Congress, but many of the justice reform bills are at a constant stalemate. Continue reading “Partisanship is failing taxpayers on justice reform”