Charter schools for prisons a part of Deal’s plan

Gov. Nathan Deal urged legislators on Thursday to commit more than $12 million to hire more instructors, establish prison charter schools and support other programs that aim to ease the transition of inmates after they are released back into society.

The governor’s proposal includes establishing two charter school systems for the prison system and hiring 28 new staffers to train inmates. The goal, he said, is to train inmates for skilled work so they don’t wind up back in prison.

“If we want to stop the revolving door, it’s better to stop it on the front end,” Deal said during an address to a legislative budget-writing committee. “Keep them in school and help them get a high school diploma.”

The governor’s proposal includes $2.5 million that would go toward hiring new staffers for his office’s new prison re-entry program. An additional $5 million would expand the network that diverts nonviolent offenders to rigorous accountability courts.

“We can’t afford to wait because we already have too many that need our help,” Deal said.

He likely won’t face much opposition from legislators, who have adopted his previous criminal justice proposals with overwhelming support. Few, regardless of partisan affiliation, have criticized the first phases of the governor’s signature policy issue.

“I haven’t heard from anyone any opposition to this idea,” said state Rep. Terry England, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “And members have seen the difference that it’s made in the lives of the inmates.”

The overhaul started in Deal’s first term with changes that allowed Georgia to push more nonviolent offenders toward alternative programs and away from expensive prison beds. The second part involved similar legislation that’s aimed at keeping young offenders out of juvenile lockups if they have been convicted of drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses.

A separate piece gave judges more discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in some drug-related cases and others when prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge all agree.

The third phase, which Deal launched last year, focuses on better ways to rehabilitate inmates who are serving prison sentences and smooth their transition as they re-enter society.

The governor also supports legislation that would create a new Department of Community Supervision to oversee probation and parole supervision now coordinated by three separate agencies. And he’s expressed support for a “ban the box” proposal that would prohibit questions about criminal background for people applying for most state government jobs.

But he said lawmakers can get an unusually high bang for their buck if they invest in more education programs for inmates. One charter school program is already in place for inmates at Arrendale State Prison in Alto, and another one is expected to start this year.

“If they don’t have a basic education, a high school diploma, it’s almost impossible for them to gain, even on the outside, the kind of skills they need to be able to get a job,” Deal said of inmates. “And we have to start on that front end, making sure they have a basic education.”

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