Panel begins criminal justice reform work

Gov. Nathan Deal's criminal justice reform council on Monday began its work to find fiscally responsible ways to sentence and manage the state's criminal population.

The panel has until the end of the year to submit recommendations to be considered during the 2013 General Assembly. This past session, the Legislature enacted a sentencing reform package that is projected to save taxpayers $264 million in prison spending over the next five years.

"You made Georgia one of the leaders on this nationwide," Jason Newman, of the Pew Center on the States, which will continue to assist the council, told members. "You should be commended."

State Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, a co-chair of the council, said no issue is off the table, provided it ensures public safety and is fiscally responsible.

Among issues to be considered, Boggs said, are: decriminalization of certain traffic offenses, safety valves for some minimum mandatory prison sentences, a rewrite of the state's juvenile justice code and ways to allow inmates to shave time off their sentences if they behave well and meet certain goals.

The council, comprised of lawmakers, judges, lawyers and members of law enforcement, is also co-chaired by David Werner, the governor's deputy executive council. The governor also appointed his son, Jason Deal, a Superior Court judge who oversees accountability courts in Hall and Dawson counties, to the council.

The governor appeared briefly as the council began its first meeing Monday, thanking members for their time and noting the Legislature did not enact all that some of the council's recommendations last year.

"You did good work," Deal said. "You looked at issues that were important to our state. I know you will continue that effort."