Number of African-Americans sent to Georgia prisons hits historic lows

The number of African-Americans sent to state prisons in Georgia has declined by 30 percent in the past eight years — the result of historic reforms in the state's criminal justice system.

Black prisoners still make up far more of Georgia’s prison population than white prisoners, after decades of mass incarceration by the state. But the numbers are turning around. Overall, the crime rate is down. But the state has also made large reductions in the number of nonviolent offenders sent to state prisons, in part by creating dozens of “accountability courts” around the state.

Drug offenders now are often diverted from prison and sent to drug courts, where they spend about 18 months receiving counseling, job training and frequent drug tests.

“In my heart, I truly believe I’d be dead now if it wasn’t for drug court,” says Atlanta resident Mack Cook III, who graduated from drug court last year and has remained clean and sober. Cook says he often returns to be a mentor to new members in the court. “My purpose now is to help someone else,” he said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution closely tracked these momentous changes in incarceration rates. See what the numbers show; meet the people behind the reforms and the people, like Mack Cook, who are making them work.

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They say they don't want to have a pauper's jail.

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