Governor Deal signed the criminal justice reform bill, SB 365, into law this past Sunday at Antioch Baptist Church in Gainesville.

This special morning service marked an important milestone for prisoner reentry reform in Georgia and is a testament to the extensive collaboration that has taken place over the last year from the state level down to the community level.

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The state has zeroed-in on criminal justice reform for three years now, passing important legislation to improve adult sentencing (2012 and 2013), juvenile justice (2013), and prisoner reentry (2014). The first two reforms were projected to save the state $264 million over a five-year-period, as an increasing number of non-violent offenders are released from prison and placed under community supervision. This move allows expensive prison beds to be reserved for those who pose the greatest threat to society, while providing those with drug addictions and mental health issues the opportunity to receive needed treatment in the community.

Already, the outcome of these reforms has been significant – the state’s prison population has dropped from 57,295 to 53,000 offenders in just two short years, saving the state an estimated $21,000 per inmate per year.

The Governor is hopeful that we will see the same sort of progress made in the realm of prisoner reentry as SB 365 takes effect. This bill makes three important reforms that will assist ex-offenders in obtaining employment:

  1. It mandates that private background check agencies update their criminal history information on a monthly basis and permanently delete any records that have been restricted or of persons who have been exonerated (absolved from guilt);
  2. It provides employers a certain level of protection from negligent liability hiring by exercising due care in hiring ex-offenders who have received a Program and Treatment Completion Certificate or a pardon;
  3. It gives judges discretion in determining whether an offender’s license should be suspended or not for a non-driving-related drug offense.

The success of this reform will be measured with a decreased recidivism rate and increased employment rate among offenders returning to their communities.

Georgia Center for Opportunity is proud to have played a role in influencing the recommendations made by the Georgia Council of Criminal Justice Reform to the state legislature in January 2014, which ultimately made their way into SB 365. GCO has been researching this issue over the past year-and-a-half and believes the state is taking the right approach in working to provide offenders greater access to job opportunities.

Hopefully new bills introduced in subsequent legislative sessions will implement the remaining recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Reform Council on ways to improve the reintegration of offenders in Georgia.

Read more about the signing of this important reform in the Gainesville Times, posted April 14, 2014: http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/6/article/98202/ .