High time for criminal justice reform

Georgia faces a billion-dollar budget deficit. In response, the General Assembly must come up with measures to alleviate the burden placed on Peach State taxpayers. One of the areas ripe for reform – at least if we take seriously recent hints by Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston – is the state’s criminal justice system. 

In discussing this problem recently with Walter Jones of the Morris News Service, Ralston stated that Georgians are “spending a huge amount of money locking people up that have drug problems.” He added, “At some point the people of Georgia have a right to ask if that’s an appropriate way to spend their tax dollars.” 

A few days later, the new Governor told legislators Georgia would not tolerate violent offenders, but that opportunities should be afforded to those “who want to change their lives.” He explained that emphasis should be placed on rehabilitation rather than incarceration, noting that addiction is a severe drain on the state’s budget. 

Georgia can no longer afford to simply lock up non-violent offenders; the approach favored to this point. The state spends more than $1 billion annually to keep some 53,000 prisoners behind bars. Moreover, as former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed out last March in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, of the 20,000 prisoners released each year, nearly two-thirds will find themselves back in jail within three years. Looking at such a record of failure, Gingrich asked, “if two-thirds of public school students dropped out, or two-thirds of all bridges collapsed within three years, would citizens tolerate it?” 

It is not as if solutions are lacking. For example, even as the recidivism rate in Georgia’s prisons remains extraordinarily high, the state’s drug courts have been demonstrably successful in keeping non-violent offenders from coming back – only 12 percent have found their way back into the system, according to commentary written by Marc Levin for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Unfortunately, funding for this proven program fell to the axe as appropriators and Gov. Sonny Perdue dealt with severe revenue shortfalls. 

“Right on Crime,” a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation supported by several familiar names in the conservative movement, including Gingrich, has proposed outside-the-box ideas to reduce both crime and its related burdens on taxpayers.   

The Lone Star State already has implemented many of these reforms in its criminal justice system, including increased funding for drug treatment programs; at the same time, saving taxpayers over $2 billion by not having to build new prisons. Texas also has reduced the number of institutionalized youth by nearly 53 percent. Violent and property crime in the state has fallen significantly, and the incarceration rate has dropped by more than four percent; even as the national average continues to increase. 

Closer to home, just this past year South Carolina enacted reforms that move low-risk, non-violent offenders from jail to rehabilitation programs. As then-Governor Mark Sanford noted when he signed the reforms into law, they are expected to save taxpayers $350 million. These reforms do not signify a weakness in dealing with criminals; rather they allow the judicial system to get “smart on crime.” 

Deal’s new administration has a unique opportunity to form a consensus with legislative leaders on this crucial public policy issue. Starting a dialogue is important; but our leaders must build on the discussions by looking at the successes from other states, considering what is already working here at home, and move from rhetoric to real action. Years of political squabbling over funding, and moves by the legislature to prove its members are “tough on crime,” have left our state at the back of the pack on implementing real criminal justice reforms. It’s time we move to the front of the class; and save taxpayers money at the same time. 

- by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

40 comments Add your comment


January 31st, 2011
6:25 am

I’m all for trying proven solutions if they really work as well as they say. The backbone of a drup rehabilitation system should be probation from prison, coupled with a strong and effective monthly drug testing program. Any use of illegal rugs, and it’s off to prison for the drug user. Remember, for all of you that say drugs are not that big a probelm, most drug users don’t have the money to pay for their drugs with the salary they make at a real job. That means the drug user is out there committing burglaries, robbing banks, stealing copper out of church air conditioners, prostituting themselves, anything to get the money for that next high. It isn’t just the drug use that affects us, it is the subsidiary crime.


January 31st, 2011
7:07 am

I’ve seen the success of drug courts in texas. Or lack thereof I should say. Drug courts are a bad idea, at least in misdemeanor cases. In felony cases, where the person could go to prison, its good, but seeing people get misdemeanors that would normally require a 1 yr probation, instead get 2 yrs druug court?! I really don’t understand how its saving money or lives to make a first time misdemeanor offender do the things required by drug court. This drug court system treats everyone like an addict and doesn’t even consider that all people who get arrested might not be an addict. And whhats silly is the counties have the ability to put people on regular probation and if they fail a drug screen then put them on drug court, yet people are just throwing out drug court like candy, just to say that they are.


January 31st, 2011
7:09 am

“rather they allow the judicial system to get “smart on crime.””

How will this be possible when the judicial system is comprised of lawyers?

Granted, most lawyers are adept at crime, but, smart?

The best way for Georgia to have a better judicial system is to allow decent people, not lawyers, to become judges. Texas does.

Also, all judges should be subject to mandatory drug tests.

Al Gore/Kilgore

January 31st, 2011
7:29 am

When we try to reform North Korean prisoners and dress them up in suits and ties when we exchange them for one of our own, the commie starts to tear off his suit and tie all the way down to his BVDs as soon as he crosses into enemy territory. (I think one guy wore Hanes). I’m glad they stop at their tighty whiteys. There’s nothing more communist than the fruit of their loins, and there are some things that even a cold war can’t justify.

Thus is it here, in Georgia. The prison attire includes a boxer ensemble that allows prisoners to endure the water hose, the cooler, the surprise inspections, the lockdowns, and even the daily shephard’s pie with dignity. Any reform we introduce would quickly be torn off by the old school, and we’d end up back to square one, with chain gangs, tunneling escapees, and mess hall riots.

Just keep everything the same, and find another budget cutting device, thank you.

attica. Attica. ATTICA! ATTICA!!


January 31st, 2011
8:04 am

“have left our State at the back of the pack”

Georgia is at the “back of the pack” in a great many areas so this is no supprise. I would guess that money and politics (trial lawyers) are at the heart of this problem so don’t look for this to change anytime soon.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 31st, 2011
8:18 am

Good morning all. There are only a few truly-dangerous drugs, drugs that impair judgment to the point that people do things they would not do otherwise – alcohol, cocaine and derivatives, meth-amphetamine. Outright repeal of a large portion of our drug laws looks like an intelligent first move to me.

George Carlin

January 31st, 2011
9:30 am

A lot of funding for non violent offenders could be avoided if marijuana was legalized and also used as a source of tax revenue.

Georgia will always be a laggard state that is lead by a bunch of good ‘ol boys like David Ralston, who will continue to propogate a business as usual approach to governance. I doubt our state leaders have the brains or the balls to do anything innovative. Don’t expect any changes with the prison system or its strain on the state budget.

Trapped in a Red state

January 31st, 2011
10:07 am

Good topic
Good place to save people and money for the state. But, if it will require a short term “expenditure” to get these drug courts up and running…before…they pay for themselves; I don’t see the GOP controlled legislature spending that “up front” money. That would be held against them by the “no taxes” “no new Gov Programs” side of the party, who want more budget and tax cuts only. I will believe it, when I see it.


January 31st, 2011
10:57 am

Turns out the Speaker is a crook. Selling his influence, such a bad thing. If the slammer wasn’t so crowded he should take a cell.


January 31st, 2011
11:16 am

First of all, everyone wants a functioning criminal justice system. The lawyers give lip service to effective criminal justice, at the same time the lawyers are filing endless appeals for new trials, filing motions for endless delays in bringing defendants to trial. They all claim they want justice the way it is proposed in the Constitution, however, they clog the justice system with their endless theatrics.
What does a crook call his lawyer a “mouth piece” that is all he sees, is some one that can talk hin out of jail. Lawyers should be known for more, like educated legal advisers that really want the law upheld.


January 31st, 2011
11:18 am

Sure, let’s save the state money by shifting the cost of drug abusers to their parents and relatives. That’s generally what happens until the offense gets serious enough to warrant a sentencing to prison. Judges know good and well that a drug abuser doesn’t have the money to pay fines, but they impose the fines and treatment costs anyway. I’ll leave it to you to guess who really pays. There’s no good-faith effort in this proposal. It’s a shift of the costs to parents and relatives, pure and simple.

poison pen

January 31st, 2011
12:07 pm

Maybe we could get the money from the DEA, after all they are doing such a wonderful job of keeping drugs off the street. lol

poison pen

January 31st, 2011
12:10 pm

Disgustes, what you say is true, however maybe if the parents kicked a little ass when the kids were younger they wouldn’t be doing drugs.


January 31st, 2011
12:58 pm

I used to say this about racism. You need to wait for all the stubborn people who have concrete beliefs to die off of old age before you will see any change. That and hope that they do not infect their children with the same. Yes I compared people’s attitudes about drug users to racists. Both skin color and drug addiction are genetically based.

Big Jim

January 31st, 2011
1:14 pm

Finally,I agree Bob. Non-violent offenders have no business being jailed with hardcore criminals.Unless,we want to breed MORE hardcore criminals.For decades,political agendas have made cannabis possession as vile as murder.Why?
I’m glad to finally see fiscal responsibility has forced politicians to look at the system for what it is,a way to cull the herd.This has applied to minorities and low income whites. Thanks Bob.

BS Aplenty

January 31st, 2011
1:26 pm

Repeal drug laws – balderdash! Nothing more disconcerting to a parent who gets into the perennial “marijuana’s not as bad as alcohol” discussion than what a drug law repeal would provide and that’s a “but dad, it’s legal” trump card. No thanks to a drug repeal if for no other reason than to continue to support all parents and guardians who are doing good work with their children – some of whom might occasionally stray,

On the contrary, I would fine the users which would hinder casual users and let the inmates work off their fines with county/state work.

Common Man

January 31st, 2011
2:06 pm

I would assert that a large portion of the non violent offenders that are in the penal system are also receiving some form of Gevernment welfare assistance. What if it was a requirement that anyone receiving government handouts in the form or food stamps, rent subsidies, etc. be required to provide evidence of a clean drug test? Why should the govenment (tax payers) give them financial assistance and they in turn abuse drugs.


January 31st, 2011
2:22 pm

Selling political favors is worse than any drug in the world.


January 31st, 2011
2:48 pm

One common sense way for legislators to curb costs while providing greater protection to the public is to reform the draconian sex offender laws. A small start was made last year (to address laws deemed unconstitutional by the courts), but Georgia still has a long way to go. The bloated registry has been documented as being ineffective, and even counterproductive, by all of the recent research. Meanwhile, an entire class of people is marginalized, and older teens and young twenty-somethings who made terrible mistakes in judgement but who are no threat to children, are prevented from ever reintegrating into society, which is bad for everyone. List and monitor the violent, repeat offenders so that law enforcment can be proactive and vigilant, and let the low-risk offenders move on with their lives. Below are some statistics about Georgia’s SO Registry.
The Georgia Sex Offender Registry data can be downloaded at:

An Analysis of the Georgia Sex Offender Registry
The most singular fact is that 96.4% of the persons listed on the registry are in compliance and are not classified by the State of Georgia as a danger to the community or children.
This means that 13,755 individuals, and their families, are restricted so severely that they have difficulty locating decent housing or gainful employment. They cannot attend their children’s school events. They are often harassed, as are their families. They may be physically harmed.

The Georgia Registry
Total: 17,706
Male: 17,234
Female: 472

In Custody: 3429
Released: 14,277

Predator: 1403
Released In Compliance: 13,853

In Compliance, not classified Predator: 13,757
Percent In Compliance, not classified Predator: 99.3%

Classified by the State of Georgia not a threat to the safety of the community or children: 13,755
Percent Classified by the State of Georgia not a threat to the safety of the community or children: 96.4%

Big Jim

January 31st, 2011
4:22 pm

BS Aplenty

This isn’t 100%,but no one wraps a car around telephone poles because they were under the influence of cannabis.Police don’t administer breathalizer tests to determine if you’re under the influence of cannabis.

Common man,when politicians submit to drug screenings after ruining our economy,then people should take drug screenings seriously.Until then,listen to what the citizens want.Also,even the rich have offspring that break the law.They just pay they’re way out of jail and a life of ruin.

Jefferson is a genius.

We should have a say in what our rights are.We shouldn’t be toldwhat our rights will be.

Big Jim

January 31st, 2011
4:23 pm

Sorry for any typos.

Common Man

January 31st, 2011
5:41 pm

I am sure that most if not all of our elder statesmen that are the elected officials would pass tests for illegal drug use. I doubt the same could be said for a significant majority of people who accept Government assistance (welfare) that is paid for by our tax base. I am sure these same folks that are on the dole also enjoy their flat screen TV’s, I Pods and using a blue tooth.


January 31st, 2011
9:21 pm

Newsflash: Man walks on the moon! Yeah, the right-wingers (Gingrich, Barr, et al) who have for years (nay, decades!) advocated that convicted drug-users (except, of course,for rich kids whose parents can afford expensive attorneys) be incarcerated, the longer the better, have finally come around to what reasonable people have been saying all along. People convicted of mere possession should receive treatment, not jail-time. You guys act like you’ve discovered the cure for cancer or something. Come on! Give me a break.You don’t have to say we were right. We know that. Just don’t act like you thought of it!


January 31st, 2011
10:46 pm

I can’t vouch for everything in here but if just half of it is scientifically accurate we have a bigger problem on our hands than we ever realized:

Dr. Nicolai Sennels (born in 1976) is a Danish psychologist who worked for several years with young criminal Muslims in a Copenhagen prison. He is the author of Among Criminal Muslims. A Psychologist’s Experience from the Copenhagen Municipality. The book will be out in English later this year.


Nicolai Sennels is a Danish psychologist who has done extensive research
into a little-known problem in the Muslim world: the disastrous results of
Muslim inbreeding brought about by the marriage of first-cousins.

This practice, which has been prohibited in the Judeo-Christian tradition
since the days of Moses, was sanctioned by Muhammad and has been going on
now for 50 generations (1,400 years) in the Muslim world.

This practice of inbreeding will never go away in the Muslim world since
Muhammad is the ultimate example and authority on all matters, including

The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually
irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to
its intelligence, sanity, and health.

According to Sennels, close to half of all Muslims in the world are
inbred. In Pakistan , the numbers approach 70%. Even in England , more
than half of Pakistani immigrants are married to their first cousins, and
in Denmark the number of inbred Pakistani immigrants is around 40%.
The numbers are equally devastating in other important Muslim countries:
67% in Saudi Arabia , 64% in Jordan and Kuwait , 63% in Sudan , 60% in
Iraq , and 54% in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar .

According to the BBC, this Pakistani, Muslim-inspired inbreeding is
thought to explain the probability that a British Pakistani family is more
than 13 times as likely to have children with recessive genetic disorders.
While Pakistanis are responsible for three percent of the births in the UK
, they account for 33% of children with genetic birth defects.

The risk of what are called autosomal recessive disorders such as cystic
fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy is 18 times higher and the risk of
death due to malformations is 10 times higher.

Other negative consequences of inbreeding include a 100 percent increase
in the risk of stillbirths and a 50% increase in the possibility that a
child will die during labor.

Lowered intellectual capacity is another devastating consequence of Muslim
marriage patterns. According to Sennels, research shows that children of
consanguinous marriages lose 10-16 points off their IQ and that social
abilities develop much slower in inbred babies.

The risk of having an IQ lower than 70, the official demarcation for being
classified as retarded, increases by an astonishing 400 percent among
children of cousin marriages.

(Similar effects were seen in the Pharaonic dynasties in ancient Egypt and
in the British royal family, where inbreeding was the norm for a
significant period of time.)

In Denmark , non-Western immigrants are more than 300 percent more likely
to fail the intelligence test required for entrance into the Danish army.
Sennels says that the ability to enjoy and produce knowledge and abstract
thinking is simply lower in the Islamic world. He points out that the Arab
world translates just 330 books every year, about 20% of what Greece alone

In the last 1,200 years years of Islam, just 100,000 books have been
translated into Arabic, about what Spain does in a single year. Seven out
of 10 Turks have never even read a book.

Sennels points out the difficulties this creates for Muslims seeking to
succeed in the West. A lower IQ, together with a religion that denounces
critical thinking, surely makes it harder for many Muslims to have success
in our high-tech knowledge societies.

Only nine Muslims have every won the Nobel Prize, and five of those were
for the Peace Prize. According to Nature magazine, Muslim countries
produce just 10 percent of the world average when it comes to scientific
research (measured by articles per million inhabitants).

In Denmark , Sennels native country, Muslim children are grossly
overrepresented among children with special needs. One-third of the budget
for Danish schools is consumed by special education, and anywhere from 51%
to 70% of retarded children with physical handicaps in Copenhagen have an
immigrant background.

Learning ability is severely affected as well. Studies indicated that 64%
of school children with Arabic parents are still illiterate after 10 years
in the Danish school system. The immigrant drop-out rate in Danish high
schools is twice that of the native-born.

Mental illness is also a product. The closer the blood relative, the
higher the risk of schizophrenic illness. The increased risk of insanity
may explain why more than 40% of the patients in Denmark s biggest ward
for clinically insane criminals have an immigrant background.
The U.S. is not immune. According to Sennels, One study based on 300,000 Americans shows that the majority of Muslims in the USA have a lower income, are less educated, and have worse jobs than the population as a whole.

Sennels concludes:

There is no doubt that the wide spread tradition of first cousin marriages among Muslims has harmed the gene pool among Muslims. Because Muslims’ religious beliefs prohibit marrying non-Muslims and thus prevents them from adding fresh genetic material to their population, the genetic damage done to their gene pool since their prophet allowed first cousin marriages 1,400 years ago are most likely massive. (This has produced) overwhelming direct and indirect human and societal consequences.

Bottom line:

Islam is not simply a benign and morally equivalent alternative to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Sennels points out, the first and biggest victims of Islam are Muslims. Simple Christian compassion for Muslims and a common-sense desire to protect Western civilization from the ravages of Islam dictate a vigorous opposition to the spread of this dark and dangerous religion. These stark realities must be taken into account when we establish public polices dealing with immigration from Muslim countries and the building of mosques in the U.S. Let’s hope America wakes up before a blind naivete about the reality of Islam destroys what remains of our Christian culture and our domestic tranquility.

Please note:

1) I said I couldn’t vouch for everything but the article was on Google.

2) We have very similar problems with “mountain people” in this country.

3) My genetics is not quite the same as a linebacker for the Steelers. Is that racist?

4) All people are spiritually equal in God’s sight but not always physically or mentally.

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February 1st, 2011
6:31 am

Don’t ever confuse “legal training” with education.

As long as Lawyers are making the laws, no legal reform will b possible.


February 1st, 2011
7:45 am

The only good thing about prison is the fact it’s easier and cheaper to get drugs than on the streets. Where else can you get 3 bags of heroin just for passing a note along to someone else ?

On a more serious note, maybe the fact our prisons are loaded with drugs might speak to just how bad a failure our “war on drugs” is. If you look at it from a purely money invested vs. results standpoint, it’s the single largest waste of tax dollars in US history.

Old Blue-haired Viagara hopped-up Lawyer/Politician

February 1st, 2011
7:56 am

You people will ONLY to the drugs WE say is alright. We just don’t like the pot nor anything else you can make on your own.

And that’s THAT.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Ha Ha HA

J. Edgar Hoover

February 1st, 2011
10:11 am

If pot becomes legal nobody’s Pink Floyd albums or Twinkees will be safe!


February 1st, 2011
12:01 pm

There’s too much $$$$$$$$$$ being made by politically connected private contractors to change the criminal justice system. Fewer people in prison = less $$$$$ in their pockets.

Logical Dude

February 1st, 2011
2:48 pm

Would it make a difference if everyone knew that CALIFORNIA has been doing this for over 10 years? Bob mentions a couple of other red states, possibly in the hopes of encouraging the conservatives to reconsider their “war on drugs” mentality.

Thank you Bob, for bringing this to teh attention of Georgians, but it should have been done LONG ago. Rehab for drug offenses, not jail!

(was stupid to do in the first place. . . ask all congressman how many have “tried” anything that is “illegal” and see what kind of “criminals” we have over us) ;)


February 1st, 2011
3:29 pm

Pot’s a harmless drug – set the offenders free and wait till they commit a bigger, not “victimless” crime. Worked well with Jared Loughner, didn’t it?


February 1st, 2011
7:19 pm

Patriot Games

February 1st, 2011
11:51 pm

Simply put, fines and out of jail time = money for the state; prisoners = money from the state, better yet the tax payers, $17 k per year.

Brother Jeff

February 2nd, 2011
12:29 am

Money will never be saved without rehabilitation and a repeal of the seven deadly sins legislation. In Georgia you cannot recieve parole for these crimes and gives the offender no reason to work on rehabilitation. A five dollar robbery should not equal ten years minimum! Give the judges right to sentence accordingly.


February 3rd, 2011
7:24 am

You only have to look at the results of rehabilitation/decriminalising in places where it has been truly tested to see if it works. That is the only way to judge anything?

Take Portugal for example; they have recently seen results taken for the last five years or so when the hard core line was totally wiped out and all drugs were in essence legalised. Rehabilitation and education as oppose to punishment and incarceration have proven without doubt to be a major success.

Less crime, Less addicts, Less costs.

Sometimes you have to wonder if cannabis will be legalised in the states only when they have found another way to imprison a couple of million slave labour workers? A bit tongue in cheek maybe; but I read that the prison workforce is responsible for a massive percentage of Americas production which seems unbelievable. I need to look into those stats a bit more. :-)

Brother Jeff

February 4th, 2011
1:50 am

Can you believe in the state of georgia you can do less time for murder than for armed robbery! Something must be wrong when that can happen.

Friday Roundup « Prison Law Blog

February 4th, 2011
2:06 pm

[...] More coverage of the new (?) left-right coalition (?) on prison reform from the Boston Phoenix and the Los Angeles Times. In his blog at the AJC, Bob Barr joins the chorus. [...]