Conservatives urge Kemp to revive criminal justice council



Gov. Brian Kemp is under pressure from a coalition of conservatives led by the FreedomWorks advocacy group to revive a criminal justice council his predecessor used to push sweeping changes to the legal system.

The letter from FreedomWorks, signed by 10 state and national conservative leaders, urges Kemp to “keep Georgia at the forefront of criminal justice reform” by asking the Legislature to re-up the Council on Criminal Justice Reform next year.

The council was key to former Gov. Nathan Deal's eight-year overhaul of Georgia's costly and famously tough criminal justice system.

Those changes have saved taxpayers in prison spending, reduced the number of black inmates to historic lows, and expanded treatment programs for nonviolent offenders.

“The benefit to public safety speaks for itself,” read the letter, which noted that violent offenders now represent 67% of the state’s prison population, up from 58% in 2008. “This means that Georgia is focusing its resources on incarcerating dangerous criminals, as it should.”

Kemp, who did not immediately comment on the letter, has praised Deal's initiatives but said he's focused on toughening penalties against violent gang offenders and sex traffickers. He signed several crack-down measures this year that aim to do that.

The FreedomWorks coalition, which includes anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and Georgia Public Policy Foundation head Kyle Wingfield, said the new council should explore “second chance initiatives” on record-sealing, expungement and mental health issues.

“This panel of experts will be essential to providing the General Assembly with specific recommendations on the best paths forward to continue the momentum for criminal justice reform in Georgia,” read the group’s letter, sent to Kemp on Thursday.

Deal would probably agree. Before he left office, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hoped Kemp and other Republicans will continue his criminal justice initiatives.

“I’d like to see every reform kept in place and, if possible, expanded upon,” Deal said. “Because when you present people with the facts it’s pretty hard to deny that they are working. And people need to be given a second chance.”

With a grin, Deal added: “It may not have been a Republican issue when I started, but it’s a Republican issue now.”